Employing a hybrid of smart and quippy comedic observations, a perceptive outlook on the complications of 20/30-something relationships in New York and genuine moments of heartache, the romantic comedy “Lola Versus” can’t seem to synthesize these elements into a fully satisfying experience by the end of its brief 89-minute running time.
Part of the problem is a clipped and rushed tempo and the fact that while auspicious, well-shot and carefully written, “Lola Versus” is also surprisingly conventional, and fails on its promise of negotiating comedic romantic despair and legitimate amorous despair in any meaningful way that we haven’t already seen onscreen.
Written by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones and directed by Wein (the creative pair who made a somewhat similar exploration of young love in “Breaking Upwards”), in “Lola Versus” Greta Gerwig plays the titular Lola, a 29-year-old woman dumped by her longtime boyfriend Luke (“The Killing” star Joel Kinnaman) just weeks before their wedding. Despondent and heartbroken, with the help of her BFFs Henry (Hamish Linklater) and Alice (Lister-Jones), Lola embarks on a succession of disastrous and distressed trysts in a desperate effort to find her place in the world as a single woman approaching 30.
While “Lola Versus” initially gives off shades of “Young Adult In New York,” presenting a self-absorbed, damaged woman who is her own worst enemy, and therefore hopefully giving sharp insights into her struggles like the recent Jason Reitman film (only featuring a younger character), Wein and Lister-Jones’ screenplay comes across as a series of well-written scenes with amusing, observant dialogue, minus a coherent, emotional through-line.
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Also distressing is how straight and predictable the story is played out. Luke leaves Lola because he needs space (pressures of the wedding), but ultimately, it just seems like this New York artist needs “space” (translation: monogamy can be frustrating). Gerwig’s Lola dabbles with falling for her best male friend Henry (that writing is on the wall after 20 minutes) and Lister-Jones’ character, while the comedic highlight of the film, essentially boils down to Megan Mullally’s Karen on “Will & Grace” or any “wacky” best friend on a sitcom who’s always spouting off at the mouth inappropriately. And in a film that hints at something deeper, all these formulaic elements grow increasingly disappointing as the picture becomes more and more unadventurous.
The disheartening thing is that Wein and Lister-Jones are astute writers and the former has much more of a cinematic eye then one would expect from an indie filmmaker known for his talky, micro-budgeted indie films. Taken on their own, many of the musical montages in the dramedy can be rather poignant and striking. Slo-mo montage #1 set to pop music effectively communicates the visceral catharsis that dancing with abandon provides after emotional suffering. And silent and slo-mo montage #3 wistfully illustrates the wordless connection of lovers at play. Yet, when you’re reaching the fourth or fifth exact instance of this technique in a 65-minute period, well, the method gets a little tired.
Shot with sunkissed photography seemingly set to make each sequence feel like a “New York, I Love You” moment, there’s also something fabricated and inauthentic about the perfectly calibrated aesthetics in the scenes. Wein’s attention span for editing has always had a clipped rhythm to say the least, and in “Lola Versus” it borders on abrupt and schizophrenic as scenes jump from sequence to sequence with a jarring cadence. While there’s definitely some truth in the screenwriting and editing tenet that says, “arrive to the party late and leave early” with any scene, something could be said for letting a moment, an emotion, or a feeling just breathe. And taken holistically, this leaves many moments with the potential of being emotionally poignant, left feeling shallow and superficial.
Featuring a score by Fall On Your Sword (an LCD Soundsystem-offshoot who has scored films like “You Won’t Miss Me,” “Another Earth” and “Generation Um…” of late), the film is positively lacquered with wall-to-wall indie-rock and pop music, which at times becomes rather oppressive.
Ultimately, “Lola Versus” wants to have it both ways, amuse with its jokes about singledom, crazy single friends, the complications of dating so soon after breakups and truthfully express the pains of being young, broken hearted and co-dependent. But communicating ingenuous heartbreak (or anything relatively moving) is usually shortchanged in favor of jokes and keeping the narrative running at a breakneck pace, which robs the few affecting scenes of any lasting power. A nice conventional bow at the end of “Lola Versus” doesn’t help its case either.
Often enjoyable, but never truly fulfilling, “Lola Versus” is frequently funny, but at the end of the day slight. It’s also an above-average romantic comedy that ultimately falls for many of the formulaic trappings of mainstream rom-coms and even at times, sitcoms, that may leave more discerning audiences feeling disillusioned. This writer for one would say you’re better off with HBO’s “Girls” if you want a sharper and more fulfilling take on the 20-something female experience in New York. [C+]
This is a reprint of our review from the Tribeca Film Festival.