Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lola Versus

In the twee art house romantic comedy Lola Versus, a late-twenties drifter named Lola (Greta Gerwig) combats her relationships, friendships, and ultimately herself after being dumped by her fiance shortly before their wedding.  There's a genuine fascination to Gerwig herself, a skillful, if overly specific, actress who in films like Greenberg and this springs Damsels in Distress has a particular way of selling a line, and a killer deadpan delivery.  She seems to bring a almost unknowable kind of intelligence and introspection to her characters, one that makes you invested and rooted in trying to understand them better.  However, she's also clearly never going to be a girl-next-door type of leading lady, and nor should she try to be packaged as such.  In Daryl Wein's ode to near-thirties malaise, there's an irritatingly high-minded hipster conceit at the very start of Lola Versus, one that seems to shout that this is a film to speak for a generation of lost (albeit very pretty) young adults in various stages of arrested development.  Lola's plight should feel earned to those of Benjamin Bradock's or the ironically tuned Reality Bites kids.  Not quite, the lost person trying to find themselves act can only really ring true when the characters are given a chance to do so; also it helps when the characters surrounding them don't read like silly non-sequitors seemingly appearing in their own films.

In a lengthy prologue we meet Lola, a happy ironic, nearly bohemian type in love with her dreamy long time boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman.)  The two enjoy healthy sex and cutesy, idiosyncratic breakfast foods in their quaint Manhattan loft-- for extra arty pretension, he's a budding painter and she's earning her PhD.  The couple gets engaged, when suddenly, after a cuddly montage of happy pre-wedding moments, he calls it quits and Lola is upended.  Whatever is Lola going to do?  The film almost devolves into a five stages of guilt evolution as the character goes from near martyr to a grown adult.  The steps to get there, while at times, slightly humorous, also play long in the tooth, because of the meandering and self indulgent (not to mention overly familiar) beats Lola Versus charts.  Feeling lost and off center is certainly a common cinematic road, and it works often because everyone feels that way every once in a while, but must it also be a drag as well.  Gerwig slumps and cries and as her Damsels in Distress character might say is going through a "tailspin," but there's such a half-hearted unevenness in the missteps Lola takes before the eventual self-redemptive final act.

The steps Lola takes to finding herself include sleeping around, destructive meetings with the man who broke her heart, and a half-assed affair with one of her best friends, played by go-to arthouse nerd\romantic Hanish Linklater (The Future.)  Lola Versus is clearly modeled in the (500) Days of Summer-type of indie isn't it romantic, but not quite dynamic defined by quirk and characterizations just left of normal human behavior, but while that film that a near romantic charm mostly attributed to it's interesting non-linear pacing, Lola Versus devolves into a small-scaled story of a lost girl who in the end doesn't appear too likable.  Gerwig challenges this with her sometimes insightful introspection and disarming, so ironic-it's-not stance, but there's a lack of pull to the center of her story.  Her parents in the film are played by Debra Winger and Bill Pullman in almost desperate acts of older generation performers trying to earn cool points.

There's an even more ugly summation to be associated with Lola Versus, a nearly sweet R-rated romantic comedy of sorts where all the R-rated parts fell like sub-Apatow like attempts at trying to win over the raunchy comedy crowd, a la Bridesmaids.  There's really no need for her best friend, an avante-garde off-Broadway actress to be so vulgar, nor a plot point designated to one of Lola's sex buddies be extended to the size of his penis.  We saw a similar thing earlier this year with another grown up arthouse draw that used unneeded vulgarity as more a desperate marketing tool than a firmer shaper of story with Friends With Kids.  Perhaps if Wein had a smarter sense to tell a smaller, more honest portrait of a young woman learning to find self-fulfillment, Lola Versus would have less trouble fighting its audiences better instincts.  C

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