Have you ever wished a movie was silent? About halfway through “What Lola Wants,” the over-the-top dialogue stops being quirky, and crosses the line into tedious and nonsensical, sapping the pleasures from its sun-blasted retro rockabilly vibe. This kind of meaningless gibberish is not what Al Jolson pioneered for us. Whiskey would have improved the experience, and “What Lola Wants” seems reverse-engineered for an Alamo Drafthouse screening, where you can sip drinks while getting buzzed on cinematic form and self-reflective over-stylization, letting the flowery language slip past in a haze of syllables.
This is not to say that “What Lola Wants” is entirely bad. It’s a big, big swing, from writer/director Rupert Glasson and it nails a lot of what it is going for—it’s a ballsy, stylish desert road flick of young love on the run. Lola (Sophie Lowe) has faked her own kidnapping to get away from her Beverly Hills actor parents, whom she describes as either vampires or werewolves, and therein lies the film’s thesis, that “parents are monsters,” which is literally uttered by Lola’s suffering partner-in-crime, Marlo (Beau Knapp).
The two meet cute in a diner shortly after Lola emancipates herself. When she clocks Marlo, a swaggering greaser straight out of “Crybaby,” with a matte black vintage whip to boot, she saunters right into his life and mucks it up even more up than it already is. Marlo’s a masterful pickpocket trying to outrun his own monster, Mama (a ferocious Dale Dickey). Together, it’s the two of them against the world, their parents, and the million dollar bounty on her head. What better time to engage in a light crime spree?
There’s a tremendous energy that sucks you right into the film, spurred by the breakneck pace and bolstered by its throwback style. Every cinematic flourish in the book is thrown on screen—slo-mo, wipes, Dutch angles, fishtailing hot rods in the dust. (One nitpick: smartphones absolutely ruin the vintage styling). At first the dialogue seems like it might work, as arch and camp as the style and tone. But there is beauty in restraint, and it’s clear that restraint is antithetical to the “What Lola Wants” philosophy.
Truly, almost every speech sounds like something Samuel L. Jackson said in “Pulp Fiction,” just not with any of the verve or importance that Jackson imparted into the words. It worked when he said it because that was his thing—the other characters had their own thing. But everyone in ‘Lola’ is a wannabe Jules, their effort apparent in trying not to trip over those five dollar words.
Per the writing, the actual plot and structure work for the most part, going for a “Bonnie and Clyde” style youthful wantonness thing. Lowe and Knapp are certainly game, and it’s fun to watch them be wild teenagers in love. But the story falls completely off the rails at the end with a misguided and misplaced attempt to address “issues” that sends the picture directly to Bonkers Town.
“What Lola Wants,” for all it’s ’60s styling, actually feels more like a ’90s genre cult flick, like “Freeway” or “The Doom Generation,” and the camp level, cinematic feel, and winking knowingness of “What Lola Wants” speaks to a true cult appeal down the line. Who knows, maybe you’ll catch it late night on cable and love it. [C]