Movie Review: Lola Versus
Rating: R (for language, sexuality, and drug use)
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Directed by: Daryl Wein
Stars: 2 out of 5
The title "Lola Versus" sounds like an introduction to a boxing match, making viewers wonder what grandiose battle Lola will be facing. It turns out that the battles are all with herself as she tries to make sense of where her life is going, with a dash of family and romance tossed in to keep her on her toes and to keep the audience engaged with her struggle to straighten out her seemingly perfect life that's been turned upside-down.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) seems to have a good future planned for herself-a solid direction in grad school, a killer apartment in New York City, a solid set of friends, a pair of caring parents, and, of course, a handsome fiancé named Luke (Joel Kinnaman). But because nothing can go smoothly at the beginning of any film, Luke gets cold feet and dumps Lola three weeks before their wedding. This turn of events sends Lola into a huge emotional tailspin, getting in some pretty epic moping time before her friends Alice (Zoe Lister Jones) and Henry (Hamish Linklater) inevitably try to pull her out of her funk. Various potential romantic entanglements follow as Lola attempts to find herself again while also obviously seeking to fill the hole in her heart that Luke left behind.
The story itself seems pretty standard for a romantic comedy, with losing, searching for, and possibly finding love. But while your usual rom-coms paint their plots with broad brushstrokes and have caricatures being passed off as people, "Lola Versus" veers a little bit away from the standard. No one is truly evil or truly good-even Luke, the dumping fiancé, comes off as more confused about what he genuinely wants in life than a bad guy whom Lola is clearly better off without. Alice is brash, and Lola's parents (delightfully played by Bill Pullman and Debra Winger) are well-meaning but a bit misguided. Lola isn't all sweetness and light, either.
This is Lola's journey, so we see her doing everything she can to cope with this upheaval in her life, whether it's wallowing in self-pity, sleeping with her ex's friend, manically complaining about never finding love again, or falling back into bed with her ex. "Lola Versus" wants to show people as more complex than just "good" versus "bad," and this is where it can get complicated (just like real life). Much like life, there is no black-and-white in "Lola Versus," just various shades of gray. The film shows that even a nice person has flaws, and not all audiences may respond well to this twist of the tried-and-true rom-com format.
This might be the best way to describe "Lola Versus" and even Lola herself-atypical. The film and the leading lady both seem to be going in a typical direction, but then the story surprises you with where it takes the characters. Even Gerwig as the lead is a pleasant surprise from the norm; while the rom-com genre is flooded with ladies who do their best to portray themselves as good and wholesome, Gerwig isn't afraid to veer between utterly morose and a bit madcap, showing Lola as someone who is genuinely messed up and seeking solace any place she can find it, whether it's at the bottom of a 40 or within a juice-cleansing diet. No one is entirely innocent when all is said and done, making "Lola Versus" more of a "slice of life" piece with a bit of "romantic comedy" thrown in.
What also helps make "Lola Versus" feel like regular, normal life is the direction by Daryl Wein (who also co-wrote with Lister Jones). Instead of relying on grand, sweeping shots of New York City that would make the film feel more cookie-cutter, Wein uses more intimate settings in less well-known areas of the city. This helps the characters' lives become the focus, rather than their hometown being the lead character-the setting is secondary to the people.
With some quirky dialogue, genuinely wrenching emotions, and a focus on reality rather than formula, "Lola Versus" comes out as an attempt to be as real as possible while still addressing the needs of its audience, who come to see rom-coms for, obviously, romance. But the danger inherent in such a gamble is whether or not audiences want to see such a fantastical standard turned on its head for the sake of realness.