"Lola Versus" is directed by Daryl Wein and co-written by his partner Zoe Lister-Jones, but the its real auteur is Greta Gerwig. The actress plays the title character as if her career depended on it -- which it doesn't, but the movie does. Gerwig singlehanded carries this blithe, generally forgettable story of a neurotic New Yorker dealing with a botched engagement by applying an energy unworthy of the material. Never one to shy away from a challenging role, she makes an uphill battle look fun.
Wein and Lister-Jones have also moved beyond the microbudget realm. "Lola Versus" is their first studio project following "Breaking Upwards," an intriguing look at a couple (portrayed by the writing duo) attempting to break up in systematic fashion. The new movie takes the opposite approach by pulling the rug out from Lola's feet in the credits sequence: After going through the motions planning a wedding with her longtime boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman), Lola comes home to find that him pining for bachelorhood.
In short order, she's crying on every shoulder she can find: Her best pal Alice (Lister-Jones), platonic guy friend Luke (Hamish Linklater, "The Future"), her aggressively supportive parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, relegated to bit parts and never given much room to shine).
There's a certain underlying appeal to Lola's manic-depressive trajectory as she increasingly blames everyone around her for her problems, starting with Luke but eventually branching out to her other close friends. Struggling to complete her dissertation, she's hardly more than the chalk outline of an aspiring New York intellectual that, for better or worse, owes much to the universe of Woody Allen.
Lola suffers from anger and confusion in every scene, but Gerwig inhabits the character with a raw uneasiness that makes the market standard for romantic comedies look downright meek. More of a damsel in distress than the character she recently played in "Damsels in Distress," she brings unexpected sadness to superficial material. "I'm a slut, but I'm a good person!" she belts out after sleeping with a close acquaintance and then a weird skater who picks her up at the grocery store in quick succession. Even the preceding awkward sex scene, which mainly emphasizes a juvenile big penis gag, legitimately conveys Lola's desperation through her befuddled expressions.