[Review] – Lola Versus

21 Jun

Title: Lola Versus
Year: 2012
Director: Daryl Wein
Writers: Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister Jones, Bill Pullman, Hamish Linklater, Debra Winger, Joel Kinnaman, Cheyenne Jackson
MPAA Rating: R, language, sexuality and drug use
Runtime: 87 min
IMDb Rating: 3.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Metacritic: 48

Greta Gerwig is one of those actresses that I’ve been championing for a while, that I really want to see make it big and become more of a household name. I had seen her in Mark and Jay DuplassBaghead as well as in Ti West‘s The House of the Devil, but it wasn’t until I took notice of her in Noah Baumbach‘s stellar Greenberg (I gave that film an A) that I thought she was immensely talented and should be one to look out for and hope for great things in the future. Greenberg did modestly at the box office, but it was well received and it got Ms. Gerwig an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Female Lead, which meant she’d be in more people’s minds now.

As a result of that, in 2011 she graduated from independent production to more mainstream projects, scoring a supporting role in Ivan Reitman‘s No Strings Attached, which I gave a B+ to, and playing the part of the love interest to Russell Brand‘s titular character in Jason Winer‘s remake of Arthur, which I gave a C+ to. But it’s 2012 that poses to be her banner year thus far, having already appeared in Whit Stillman‘s terrific Damsels in Distress, being part of the ensemble in the upcoming To Rome with Love, Woody Allen‘s latest, and finally getting to play the lead in this one, Daryl Wein‘s Lola Versus.

The trailer for this film is quick to point out that it’s from Fox Searchlight, “the studio that brought you (500) Days of Summer“, so arguably this was going for that same kind of quirky rom-com sort of vibe. Which, by all accounts, is something I’m all for, since that 2009 Marc Webb film is one of my favorites of that year, and cemented Zooey Deschanel‘s status in Hollywood, which felt like validation for people like me who had been harboring a crush on her for years prior. So if Lola Versus was going to do for Ms. Gerwig what (500) Days of Summer did for Ms. Deschanel, then I was all for that.

I am, however, afraid to report that having now seen Lola Versus, I’m fearing it won’t do that. I mean, Ms. Gerwig is actually as good as she possibly could have been tackling her first leading role, and for whatever it counts that’s still a step in the right direction for her career, but the fact of the matter here is that the script, co-written by Mr. Wain with his real-life girlfriend, Zoe Lister Jones, who also co-stars here, is plagued with characters that you can’t connect to that fast and, most annoyingly, it’s a film that just feels overly familiar by now. I mean, I actually liked the film, don’t get me wrong here, but I guess that studio statement in the trailer amped up my expectations, and I was waiting for something that would really catapult Ms. Gerwig to stardom, and this won’t be able to pull that off.

Ms. Gerwig plays the titular Lola, a 29 year-old who gets dumped by her long-time boyfriend just a few weeks before they were set to walk down the aisle. So of course now she must find herself again, and learn how to navigate the world as a single woman who’s approaching 30. Unfortunately, the way the character is written doesn’t enable us to really get behind Lola, in fact it kind of alienates us as an audience. And the film itself feels conventional in how self-consciously it was trying to be unconventional. I’m recommending this film, by the way, because I still like Ms. Gerwig’s performance, it’s just that I’m trying to express how frustrated it made me.

Here’s what I mean when I say I felt kind of alienated when watching Lola’s story unfold. First of all, the place she lives in is sweet as hell, so she has a good life. But, of course you’d tell me that even so, we have to feel bad because her boyfriend dumped her a few weeks before their wedding. But, actually, no I don’t. And that’s because the script doesn’t give us any moments with the boyfriend prior to the dumping. The guy, who’s played by Joel Kinnaman who I also really like as an actor (though his character in The Killing made me unable to believe him in a rom-com), dumps her the first scene we get with him. So he seems like a jerk, and we think to ourselves that maybe Lola’s just fine without a guy like him in her life.

Then what happens is that she has Alice, the character played by Ms. Jones, her best friend, be the one to comfort her and to offer the comic relief with plenty of one-liners that feel the opposite of organic (though they’re still quite nice, Ms. Jones wrote the best lines for herself). And then Lola pretty much starts sleeping around ever so carelessly, kind of getting her fair share of rebound sex for however many years she had been in a relationship with her ex-fiancée, including sort of starting a romance with Henry, the character played by Hamish Linklater, a relationship that also contributed to my not really rooting for Lola because of what it meant for her to get involved with him.

I’m just way torn about this movie, really. The film uses the conceit to move from one setup to the next, and even though the setups are actually many times super amusing, the result that comes out of them doesn’t always follow suit. I mean, for instance, the whole setup for this movie I thought is super smart, beginning a romantic comedy at the end of an engagement, I like that. But then this whole thing becomes rather narcissistic and you spend so much time in this movie just wishing for her to get over it that it gets iffy. But, hey, at least Ms. Gerwig is still good here, and that’s reason enough to see this one, if you ask me. She’s an actress that the second she pops up on-screen you want to like, and that presence is hard to find, so hopefully she’ll get more leading roles in the future.

Grade: B-

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