Zola, The Humans, and What They Are Like Without Audio Description

To be fair to the original filmmakers, this should not constitute an actual review of either film and whether or not it is good. It just serves as a reminder of why audio description is sometimes paramount, even in English language titles. I attempted to watch both films, because they both were “in the Oscar conversation” this year, with Zola just winning awards at the independent Spirit Awards on Sunday, and The Humans being an adaptation of a Tony award winning play. I’m sure both are good, but I can’t give you that stamp of approval.

What I Knew About Zola Going In: Taylor Page had just won Best Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve had at least one real life friend post that he loved it, and another film critic I usually align with also enjoyed it. I’m aware it’s based off of something that happened on twitter.

What I Think It Is Now About: A road trip to Florida for some girls who may or may not be strippers/prostitutes, and the shenanigans they get into. At least one of them runs into Nicholas Braun from Succession, as I recognized his voice, and Coleman Domingo plays a pimp I think. He’s always angry. I think this film is supposed to be a comedy? But, I never laughed.

What I Know I Missed: This film uses twitter A LOT, and you never know what is written in those tweets. And they seem to help push the movie forward. Sure, we get a tiny bit of narration, but that’s counter balanced by several lengthy sequences in which no dialogue happens. I literally could not follow this film. I tried. I’m also unfamiliar with the voices of Taylor Page and Riley Keough, so i only ever was able to track Braun and Domingo. Who are supporting.

Did I Enjoy Any Of It?: Coleman Domingo seemed to light up every scene he was in, even if I ddin’t fully understand what was going on. So that’s something. But, no.

Theand…

What I Knew About The Humans Before I Watched It: It’s based on a Tony award winning play, which initially featured at least Richard Jenkins (who i believe won a Tony for his performance). I’m unsure how many of the rest of the cast is carried over from the stage show. But I was aware that Amy Shumer, Beanie Feldstein, Jun Squibb, and Steven Yuen are all in the film. And it takes place at Thanksgiving.

What I think it’s about after watching it: People talking, almost inaudible at times, in one of the films with the weirdest sound design, about nothing ever happy. Quite frankly, I fell asleep. I did wake back up before the end, but I easily lost fifteen minutes of the film.

WWhat I Know I Missed: There are scenes of silence. Apparently, this is a horror movie of sorts, and a lot is done with lighting and atmosphere instead of straight up jump scares, and you miss all of that. It ends up being just people talking about depressing stuff, with long pauses between dialogue. It’s aggressively boring without visuals, or a description thereof. I would never in a million years have classified this as a horror film after this viewing, except perhaps for the blind audience forced to watch this without audio description. I looked up the ending, which was described by a very enthusiastic writer at Looper as one of the most terrifying endings, and i got none of that. I read his whole description, and you just get Richard Jenkins being very upset, but you don’t really understand why. I know this film lives in subtext, but atmosphere seems to also be a major factor here, and since there is a ghost figure that appears in the film (that I had no idea about), this film is unwatchable for a blind audience without audio description.

Was Any Of It Good?: I love these actors. i fucking LOVE Richard Jenkins. He’s made shitty films, sure, but they were like 20 years ago, and we promise never to talk about Say It Isn’t So ever again. He was terrific this year in Nightmare Alley, but no. This film is painful to sit through as is. And I wish that wasn’t the case.

Final Grade: Showtime needs audio description. Both of these films are unwatchable without. I would give both films an F, but I feel like that’s unearned, and not reflective of the actual project.

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