I know from scads of reviews that Greta Gerwig is the new indie darling, a quirky yet accessible protagonist. As far as I can make out, Gerwig’s appeal seems to be linked to some mysterious combination of long golden locks, hooded eyes, and an inability to enunciate.
None of these traits do much to endear her eponymous character to us in Lola Versus, written by director Daryl Wein and co-star Zoë Lister Jones (a ray of caustic sunshine in TV’s otherwise frightful Whitney). As the movie begins, Lola, a 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate, is all a-twitter over the details of her impending “location wedding.” Within moments, however, her artist-fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) pulls the rug—er, aisle runner—out from under her with that dreaded utterance, “I need alone time.” (At least he doesn’t follow that up with “Hey, but we can still be friends!”) Judging from Lola’s subsequent behavior, Luke’s restraint is understandable. Heck, it’s downright admirable.
Devastated, and apparently not needing to report to any sort of job, Lola resorts to wallowing on her couch, munching salty snacks and letting friends Alice (Jones) and Henry (Hamish Linklater) and parents Lenny (Bill Pullman) and Robin (Debra Winger) coddle, console and otherwise do for her. Mom encourages her to freeze her embryos before it’s too late, while Dad touts the positives of free love. Alice drags her to clubs, where Lola suffers panic attacks. Lola drinks to excess alone or with Henry. She takes a stab at dating and has unsatisfying sexual encounters. She tries Pilates, yoga, a Russian bath house and ex-sex, but nothing can prevent her from alienating just about every friend she has. Heck, we’ve all been there, but hopefully we were students or just out on our own. One of the narrative failures that keeps getting in the way of our engaging with Lola is the fact that the woman is almost 30, and yet is acting like a cross between The Breakfast Club’s Ally Sheedy and St. Elmo Fire’s Demi Moore.
One of the film’s only truly humorous moments is when Alice explains in utter seriousness that Pogrom!, the horrid experimental play Lola and Henry have just sat through, is a metaphor for genital mutilation (it’s also the movie’s only unselfconscious, organic moment). Lola Versus does offer some very nice location shooting in various neighborhoods of Manhattan, reminiscent of the “everything’s possible in the Big Apple” visual sense created in Annie Hall, Kramer vs. Kramer, and even Chapter Two.
The movie harkens back to the ’70s in other ways, too—most notably its complete rip-off of An Unmarried Woman’s ending. To compare that movie’s groundbreaking theme of self-love and awareness with Lola Versus’ concluding mindset is a complete stretch. Lola herself seems not so much emotionally or psychologically wiser a year after being dumped as she is cognizant of the fact that she can afford her own stilettos and flowers.