Zola (4 stars)

Warring strippers make for a fun focus in this blackly comic, true-life inspired dramedy

'You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch here fell out?' asks Zola (Taylour Paige) at the outset of this deliciously sassy and OTT offering from writer-director Janicza Bravo, co-written with Jeremy O Harris. It's based on the experience of stripper A'Ziah 'Zola' King, who shared her outrageous story via Twitter, in a thread that went viral, and it's been fashioned into one hell of a wild cinematic ride.

When Zola and the bi-atch in question, Stefani (a reliably superb Riley Keough), first meet they're lovestruck, and their friendship kicks off in a frenzy of social media exchanges. They're a pair of glamour-puss strippers, proudly walking the tightrope between trashy and fabulous and sporting bags of in-your-face sex appeal. When Stefani suggests heading to Tampa to check out some lucrative dancing spots, Zola has no reason to be suspicious, but then her pal rocks up with an enigmatic older guy (Colman Domingo), alongside her insecure boyfriend Derrek (Succession's Nicholas Braun), and the alarm bells begin to ring.

Bravo goes big with her directorial flourishes in a visually and aurally exuberant film that combines superbly unsubtle fashion, cute graphics, crazy confrontations and hysterical farce, while the women themselves are wonderfully fierce – Paige describes how in her preparations to convince as a stripper she adopted an 'eat or be eaten' mindset, and it shows.

The film is flanked by a great score from Mica Levi (Under The Skin), while fluid cinematography from Ari Wegner (Lady Macbeth, In Fabric) sweeps us up in the adventure. Zola is African American and there's some cringeworthy appropriation of Black culture from the very Caucasian Stefani and Derrek, with Bravo also poking fun at some truly pathetic punters. There's no shortage of dark material and discomfort but Zola expertly avoids finger wagging or taking things too seriously; this high-camp film has both its finger on the pulse and an irresistibly wicked sense of humour.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 6 August.

Zola

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 1h 30min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Janicza Bravo
  • Written by: Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris
  • Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Ari'el Stachel, Colman Domingo
  • UK release: 6 August 2021

A stripper named Zola embarks on a wild road trip to Florida.