Review: Lola Versus
By Sarah Mankoff on 6.8.2012
How you feel about Lola Versus will largely depend on how you feel about Greta Gerwig and her particular brand of mush-mouthed mumblecore charm. There’s a reason the title leaves her adversary unnamed: Lola Versus never specifies what Lola is combating, focusing instead on her and her alone. By the opening credits, it’s clear that Lola hasn’t fought against a whole lot in her life, so when her perfect fiancé calls off the engagement and she’s forced to move out of their perfect rent-controlled studio apartment (which gets great light!), Lola is sent into a tailspin.
For a movie that purports to be a holistic view of Lola closing in on 30, her panic is almost exclusively romance-related. When she’s not worrying about which one of her suitors she’s dating, Lola is working towards getting her Ph.D, with a dissertation that miraculously writes itself. But the looming milestone birthday spurs existential crises in neither the academic nor professional department (she works as a waitress at her mother’s restaurant after the broken-off engagement). Her intellect is dangled occasionally as a very minor plot thread, serving only to expound on her love life. Her thesis, regarding silence and negative space in literature, serves as a thinly veiled metaphor for being single, something Lola hasn’t experienced in eight years.
In this respect, Lola Versus is confused, toying with the conventions of romantic comedy in a way that hints at a woman being more than the men she dates, but ultimately falling short. Director Daryl Wein and co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones—who also plays the requisite sassy best friend—present Lola as a woman discovering herself, but the movie really adds up to a woman discovering who she’s not. In fact, her character is sketched mostly in negative terms: she’s not her bawdy, no-nonsense BFF, she’s not her open-minded ex-hippie parents, and she’s not the fantasy girl that rebound suitors project onto her. Wein and Lister-Jones have admirably tried to create a protagonist of some depth, but despite Gerwig’s relatable awkwardness and uncertainty-filled inflections, Lola lacks for true substance of her own.
Lola Versus ends with her 30th birthday, which comes to feel more like an unconvincing framing device than a social benchmark with which she has come to terms. After spending an 86-minute year in a fantasy New York without winter, Lola is still little more captivating than a blank page.