Road trips dominate the narratives of these two films – but the films are as different as night and day. Coincidentally, they’re both situated in Florida. @Zola is mature and graphic, while Vivo is Sony Animation and salsa-sunny.
@Zola (Video on Demand) – If ever you were wondering whether one could successfully turn a notorious viral tweet thread from 2015 into a full length feature film; wonder no more, as thanks to Director Janicza Bravo’s bravura work, the answer is a resounding Yes. If you’ll recall the @Zola thread back then, it was an adult dancer in Florida tweeting about how under false pretenses, she was co-opted into a spree of prostitution, drugs, and even grievous criminal activity. All the time it was happening to Zola, she would tweet and for some strange reason, it became a compelling, vicarious adventure for so many who followed her every tweet. Bravo takes this basic premise as a start off point, then embellishes the narrative and teases out really strong performances from her cast so that the film becomes an underworld odyssey that takes no prisoners, and goes for the jugular.
Taylour Paige plays Zola, and Riley Keough is fascinating as scene-stealing Stefani. Keough is of special interest as she’s the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, so granddaughter of THE Elvis. You’ll love the interaction between the two girls as, at one point during the car ride, Stefani starts talking in a manner more ghetto than Zola, who just sits there with a look of disbelief. Also one to watch out for is Colman Domingo as X, Stefani’s pimp. He’s truly menacing, and hilarious as he keeps changing his accent, depending on how he wants to be perceived by the person he’s addressing. This is Gen Z in all their trashy glory, not saying they’re exploited, victimized or commodified, but going along for the ride because it’s all part of the trip they’re ready to take. At one point, the girls look at their own social media feeds, referring to the images as ‘she’ and not ‘me’. A must watch if you’re ready to watch indie that dares to be different.
Vivo (Netflix) – If ever you felt there was a little too much of Lin Manuel-Miranda going on over the last few months, then stay away from this charming animated feature. In this new Sony Animation musical, Lin voices Vivo, the singing and dancing kinkajou. Kinka-what might now be on your lips, and don’t worry, it has nothing to do with the previous film reviewed (even if it sounds like it could). The kinkajou is the honey bear from South America, and in this film, it’s a kinkajou that ends up in Havana, Cuba; and is befriended by an elderly musician who together become the most entertaining musical act of the local plaza. Driving the film’s narrative is the arrival of a letter from Marta, the former partner and true love of Andres from decades ago. She left for Miami and a grand career in the States and is now reaching out to Andres to join her for her final concert.
Of course, Fate is cruel and Andres never flies to Miami. Instead, he’s laid to rest and from Key West come his surviving relatives; cue in Gabi, a musically inclined niece who’s something of a free spirit and social outcast. Gloria Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine voices Marta and you know that one of the highlights of the film will have her singing a full song – and it’s worth the wait. The musical numbers sparkle and the animation styles have nice flourishes (but a far cry from SpiderVerse or Mitchells vs. the Machines). On the downside, I couldn’t help feeling that more effort could have been made with the story, as the moment we know what the quest and road trip will consist of, there seems to be a lot of stretching being done and piling on of the cute animated animals quotient. It’s fun and light entertainment, and will delight Lin fans, but it isn’t one of Sony Animation’s strongest.