Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

dir Janicza Bravo
scr Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O Harris
prd Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Vince Jolivette, Elizabeth Haggard, Dave Franco
with Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun, Ari'el Stachel, Jason Mitchell, Jarquale Stewart, Ernest Emmanuel Peeples, Sophie Hall, Nasir Rahim, Ts Madison, Tony Demil
release US 30.Jun.21,
UK 6.Aug.21
20/US 1h26

keough domingo braun
sundance london

Is it streaming?

Based on a "true" story from a Twitter thread, this arthouse movie is loose and deliberately cartoonish. Director-cowriter Janicza Bravo keeps the story moving with chattering dialog that feels like a joke the audience can't possibly get. Meanwhile, the selective sound mix and swirling camerawork echo a leery male gaze. And as characters hit the road over a long weekend, what the story reveals about youth culture is chilling.
While working as a waitress, Zola (Paige) meets Stefani (Keough), another aimless young woman with nothing better to do than go out looking for trouble. They bond over a bit of pole dancing and distract each other with a continual stream of text messages. Then Zola invites Paige come along on a drive to Florida with her alpha roommate X (Domingo) and nervous boyfriend Derrek (Braun). When they arrive, Zola discovers that Stefani is turning tricks for cash, and she doesn't want to be a part of that. So she takes control of the situation.
As the narrative journeys into the seedy underworld of pimps and private dancers, the story that's live-tweeted is all smiles and silliness. The shifts between these angles are pointedly jarring. The general tone grows increasingly dark as these four people move from a filthy motel to a pricey seaview hotel, then a giant house on the beach, planning each move as a way to make more cash with the minimal possible effort. Of course things keep going wrong, and it never dawns on them that it's all their fault.

Performances are natural and energetic. Keough is the film's driving force, a larger-than-life woman who only rarely drops her mask, even when she hilariously retells the story in her own voice. By contrast, Paige is the voice of reason, holding the audience's perspective while sarcastically commenting on everything that happens. The ever-cool Domingo and lanky Braun bring very different energy to the screen, as X forcefully tries to control situations and Derrek feels like he has no agency at all.

For what's essentially a comedy, this is a bleak look at generational attitudes, mainly exploring the rampant delusions about the differing identities we present to the public and our friends. The obsession these young women share about social media clips is painfully vacuous, a distraction from their troubled lives that's as damaging as substance abuse. And sex means absolutely nothing to them. So where can life ever take them?

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 24.Jul.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall