Review: Lola Versus

July 5, 2012

ImageActress Greta Gerwig has been called the indie Meg Ryan, which is unfair and pretty much right on the money. Like Ryan, queen of the 1990s rom-com, Gerwig is innately, immensely likable and instantly brightens every scene she’s in. She might be a good source of alternative energy, actually. I wonder if the government has looked into this.

Gerwig headlines the appealing, uneven “Lola Versus,” which has the shape of a traditional romantic comedy, but the texture of a mumblecore indie. The movie is reliant on Gerwig carrying the lead, which she does with her usual effortless and natural performing style. It’s funny, I know that what Gerwig does is technically called acting, but I can never actually catch her doing it.

Gerwig plays part-time New York City grad student Lola, 29 and recently dumped by her fiancé, Luke, a handsome cad played by Joel Kinnaman. (Luke is on the cusp of NYC art star glory thanks to his oil paintings of stills from celebrity sex tapes.)

Catatonic with despair, Lola shuffles around her apartment, tended by her loyal friends Alice and Henry (Zoe Lister Jones and Hamish Linklater) and her aging hippie parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman).

The rest of the movie follows Lola’s attempts at recovery as she pairs off with men in and out of her circle of friends. Complicating matters, her friends pair off with one another as well, and pretty soon everyone is sleeping with everyone else. Ah, to be 20-something again.

The things that happen in “Lola Versus” aren’t as interesting as how they happen. Director Daryl Wein (“Breaking Upwards”) stages scenes that can be very funny. In one sequence, Lola has a painfully awkward one-night stand with a former Eagle Scout who likes to sing Ani DiFranco songs during sex. Another scene explores the abiding wisdom secretly coded into “Beverly Hills 90210.” That particular monologue is funny in different ways for different age groups, I suspect.

Bill Pullman has great lines as Lola’s libertine father (“It’s not about perfect fidelity, it’s about high fidelity”) and I especially liked how he shows support for Lola by immediately unfriending her ex-fiancé on Facebook.

The script, by director Wein and co-star Jones, abounds with effective moments. There is a specificity to the characters and situations that avoids the usual setup-punchline rhythm of romantic comedies. Music and creative editing also give “Lola” a different cadence.

But the moments don’t add up to anything. There is no character arc at all with Lola, unless going from lovable to adorable can be considered personal development. The hipster dialog occasionally gets a little too precious, and the 20-something romantic drama gets tiresome.

The movie’s final scenes fall flat as the filmmakers appear to concede they’ve written themselves into a corner. There’s nowhere to take this thing but into the maw of convention. Lola learns to love herself, but she’s already been loved to death for 90 minutes by the audience.


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