Émile Zola wrote “J’accuse.” Zola, the erstwhile stripper who now prefers birth name A’Ziah King, wrote “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
Maybe I’m too plugged in, but give me the latter?
King’s now-infamous 148-thread Twitter tale is a modern classic, all perfectly teed up in those opening words promising intense drama and eye-popping voyeuristic thrills, capped off by those irresistible eight question marks. Few who saw the original thread in 2015 could resist, nor could those who ran across it in a sprawling epic in Rolling Stone.
Now, the whole delightfully, delectable sordid saga comes to life in an electric new film from director Janicza Bravo (“Lemon”) and screenwriter Jeremy O. Harris (“Slave Play”), opening Wednesday at the Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive.Dear reader, if you’re not familiar with King’s thread or the article, you’re missing out, but it’s easy to catch up. Bravo’s film is no pale shadow of the original; it’s a fully embodied, totally electric celebration of the wooziest road trip imaginable. (Yes, to Florida. Of course it’s to Florida.)
As the film opens, waitress and occasional dancer Zola (Taylour Paige) meets cute with Stefani (Riley Keough) at Hooters, and it’s no accident that there’s a romantic-comedy overlay on the whole scene. The relationship that develops is platonic, yet more. There’s an undeniable magnetism between the two, even as Zola has every reason to distrust Stefani. It’s not for nothing that she says, “From here on out, watch every move this bitch make.” (You can tell what lines are taken directly from the thread — a Twitter cheap chimes sweetly.)
King may have exaggerated somewhat in her prologue — the 85-minute movie absolutely flies by — but “full of suspense” is right on the money. Bravo and Harris manage to thread an incredibly small needle — spiky and hysterical, scary and melancholy, understanding and never quite coldhearted, but at the very least clear-eyed about its characters’ foibles. These aren’t pitiable sex workers, veering inexorably to some moralistic atonement. There’s empowerment here, even as the women are toiling through some grimy, unenviable situations.
It’s all ably brought to life by Paige and Keough, both insanely charismatic; Colman Domingo as X, Stefani’s pimp, deceptively friendly and ultimately perfectly terrifying; and the sensational Nicholas Braun (“Succession”) as Stefani’s pathetic cuckolded boyfriend.
As fleet as the tale is, there’s a bit of perhaps unavoidable hangover as it winds to its conclusion, but Bravo’s triumph can’t be discounted, nor can the ultimate power of the stranger-than-fiction, at least mostly true tale at the film’s heart. (R for strong sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, and violence including a sexual assault)