SIFF Film Review – Lola Versus
Of all the films released so far this year, it is surprising to me to see that one of the biggest uproars has been generated in the last couple weeks over Lola Versus. I’m not going to argue that it is a masterpiece, but it certainly isn’t one of the weakest films of the year, which Rotten Tomatoes seems to indicate with a rate hovering around 40%. Much like love, it is messy, but with all the best intentions.
The story follows Lola (Greta Gerwig) after she is rocked by the collapse of her engagement to Luke (Joel Kinnaman). With the support of her two friends Henry (Hamish Linklater) and Alice (Zoe Lister Jones), Lola attempts to come to terms with her failed relationship and tries to venture back out into the dating world.
Director Daryl Wein and his co-screenwriter Zoe Lister Jones aren’t novices to the world of challenging romantic films, with their first film, 2009’s Breaking Upwards, telling the semi-autobiographical story about a couple strategizing their own breakup. That film premiered at SXSW and had a solid life on the film festival circuit by being a unique twist on the failed romance genre. Lola Versus follows a more conventional route of following a character as they try to get over a failed romance. In a year with lots of strong female leads (stay tuned for Brave and Hello I Must Be Going), this film doesn’t quite distinguish itself. Lola is less of a vehicle for change than a vehicle upon which change is inflicted. That isn’t to say you don’t empathize with her story, but she makes it challenging when you can foresee her actions going wrong in advance.
Gerwig has built up decent resume the last few years as a supporting actress in both indie (Greenberg) and mainstream work (No Strings Attached, Arthur), so it is nice to finally see her get the opportunity to take on some lead roles. She hasn’t have as strong a filmography as indie darling Zooey Deschanel, but she does have similar off-beat charm. My main problem with this film doesn’t so much lie with Gerwig as an actress, but more in the part she is playing. Her character starts out on a rocky road, and it doesn’t seem to get much better from there. It is hard to feel sympathetic for her at times, as her actions frequently hurt those around her. Perhaps it is more real that way, but it really doesn’t help you want to watch the character more.
A lot of criticism has been leveled at Lola for being a narcissist, and I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. Emotions can be extremely tough to recover from, so I chalk it up to something closer to poor judgment. Love hurts; give the girl some slack. I will concede that film has a bit of a split personality and vacillates between being very comedic and very dramatic, with transitions often occurring very quickly. But I do like that the film is different. It is a departure from the traditional arc of relationship fails/new love found/happily ever after that we so often get from Hollywood. There are certainly elements of the plot that are predictable, but I like that does Lola has to grow up…even if a lot of her problems are self-inflicted.
One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the film is Zoe Lister Jones as Alice. She has phenomenal comedic timing, but essentially plays the Randall role from Clerks. She has all the best lines and I wish she had more screen time. Realistically, I’m not sure if a Randall-centric movie would be enjoyable, but the film feels like it drags a bit when she isn’t on screen. She provides an enjoyable pick-me-up in a somewhat morose story, and it is definitely a much more engaging part than her bland role on Whitney. Perhaps her character is a bit over the top, but she is sort of that “id unleashed” that we all wish we could be.
Wein’s use of New York City is lush and he treats it like a character in its own right. The landscapes are beautiful and helps instill a sense of magic, clearly a tip of the hat to Woody Allen. Unfortunately, at the same time it is a shame to have such notable actors like Bill Pullman and Debra Winger present when they aren’t given more ample material to work with, and essentially are there just to play the part of supporting parents.
All this being being said, I do think that Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones have a lot of talent between them, and I’m curious to see what they could do outside of the dysfunctional relationship genre. This film is messy and full of romantic clichés, but still finds ways to be entertaining.
Final Grade: B