NBFF Review: Lola Versus

To go a completely different direction from Detention of the Dead, the first film I saw at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Wednesday night, May 2, 2012, the follow up screening was an offbeat romantic comedy, starring an actress who is currently a fixture of independent and art house features, Greta Gerwig.  Lola Versus may play out in its own sort of way, but it very much follows a lot of the same patterns that these types of films tend to have.  That does not make it bad, as I liked a lot of the film, save for some issues I had with the third act.  Despite the disastrous nature of some of the romantic follies Gerwig’s character becomes involved with, the film had enough going for it to make it work for me.

Gerwig stars as Lola, a nice enough person, living with her boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) in New York.  At the beginning of the film, Luke proposes to Lola and the during the entire opening credits montage, we see Lola getting ready for her wedding.  Reaching the end of this sequence, Lola comes home to an upset Luke, who breaks off the wedding entirely.  Smash cut to the title.  Lola is understandable devastated, but at least has good support coming from her best friend Alice (co-screenwriter Zoe Lister-Jones), the mutual, but sweet friend Henry (Hamish Linklater), and her caring parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman).

In the months that follow, Lola gets into some messy situations, as she deals with her break up somewhat haphazardly.  As Lola deals with being single for the first time in nearly a decade, her decisions lead her to hooking up with some less than ideal people, as well as people she never really considered to be possible suitors.  Her friends try to help her along, and even Luke still attempts to forge some kind of friendship with Lola, despite the way in which he hurt her.  However, Lola needs to work on moving on and getting out of the rut that she was forced into.

The main appeal of this film, for me, was Greta Gerwig.  I have been an admirer of the various films Gerwig has been a part of for a while now (Greenburg and The House of the Devil, among others) and I was happy to see a film that puts her in the starring role.  Aside from a key issue I had with the film, which I will address later, I was happy to have found plenty to enjoy in her performance.  Gerwig has a way of handling her characters in films with a sense of honesty, which is reflected in the way she reacts to other characters.  Having been a part of so many independent features, it is a natural sort of approach, which allows her to have believable chemistry with the various other characters.  She also has a nice smile, which is important in two ways.  Gerwig is an attractive, leggy blonde, yes, but she has a way of putting a lot of emotion behind her smile, which does not always suggest happiness (especially in this film).

The other characters were well played, for the most part, as well.  The character of Alice is an expected, but appropriate type of friend that Lola would have in a film like this.  She gets to string out a number of one-liners that are fun and adds to the supporting the lighter moments of a film dealing with Lola’s romantic troubles.  Hamish Linklater is incredibly sweet and laid back in the role of the male friend, who balances teetering on becoming too close with a person he is not sure about becoming so close to.  He has a way of equaling the natural sort of chemistry that Gerwig creates, which is neat given that he’s balanced doing independent films with a lot of TV work.  Debra Winger and Bill Pullman have the pretty simple task of providing support and sage wisdom to Lola, which is fine, because I liked the sort of breezy relationship their characters had with their daughter (Pullman in particular).  And lastly, Kinnaman is fine in the role of the man who dumped Lola in the first place.  Knowing him mainly for his much darker role in The Killing (though it should be noted that he’s coming up in the film world, with a number of big parts coming his way), it was at least nice to see him clean shaven.  That said, there is a lot to be said about how irritating his character is, given the decisions he has made and how he goes about trying to still be in contact with Lola.  It is fortunate that Kinnaman at least sells the role of being so unsure of himself.

As mentioned, the film was co-written by Zoe Lister-Jones, along with writer/director Daryl Wein, and the two manage to do fine work in making this a film about a woman caught up in despair due to her tragic and abrupt breakup, while still managing to inject the story with plenty of humor.  I would not necessarily say that I found the film to be deeply poignant (which can easily be attributed to the fact that I am male and have not gone through an intense breakup ordeal that preceded my approaching wedding), but I was also happy that Lola Versus didn’t plunge itself down too deeply into dramatic territory.  I did get caught up enough in the emotional journey of Lola to appreciate what she was going through, but I was happy that she found herself in humorous and awkward situations as well.

The main issue I had with the film revolved around the progression into the third act.  The film reaches a point where Lola finds herself at a very particular point in her life (and in the structure of this somewhat familiar story) and she needs to take some certain actions in order to grow and recover as a character.  I was put off by the way the film decided to handle this area of the story, where Lola essentially has certain developments that come from a place that is not fully developed and leads to a closure of the film that feels somewhat unearned.  It basically felt like the film cut off some bits in an attempt to rush into its finale, which rubbed me the wrong way.

Aside from the conclusion, which unfortunately did not feel fully developed (although I did enjoy the final minutes), my overall takeaway, regarding the film, was a positive one.  I like Gerwig and her relationships with the cast.  The script, for the most part, was pretty sound in portraying an entertaining take on a breakup story.  I also want to mention the music by the band Fall on Your Sword, which I was a fan of and am happy to see them scoring more films (they also provided the score for Another Earth).  I would be curious to see how people that have been in similar situations will react to this film, but I hope it is positively, as the film is charming enough in playing this character off of her friends and allowing her to stumble along the way, before finding her balance again.

Click on the poster to visit the Newport Beach Film Festival website, and be sure to check back to Why So Blu throughout the week for more of my coverage of the festival!

Check out the trailer for Lola Versus:


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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