For a film that sets out to flip the romantic comedy on its ear, it doesn’t end up being as deep or intelligent as it thinks it is. Still, it does have its moments and it’s non-ironic tone is refreshing in the hipster/indie canon.
One can almost see real life couple and writing team Daryl Wein (who also directs) and Zoe Lister-Jones (who fills the best friend role as Alice) coming up with the idea for Lola Versus. They begin with the two lovebirds, Lola (Greta Gerwig) and Luke (Joel Kinnaman), living the perfect life, being completely in love and becoming engaged. But before the title even scrolls across the screen, Lola’s been dumped. Whereas most romantic comedies end with that engagement, this one begins with the unhappy ending and the next 90 minutes find Lola, who just turned 29, attempting her life as a single woman nearing 30.
The main problem the film has it that it believes that premise is much more clever and profound than it actually is. There are plenty of films that begin with break ups or divorce or major upheavals in characters’ lives, that’s what creates momentum. What the film does do well, however, is to take that starting off point and create a rom-com that fits the mold. Of course, one could argue that by fitting in that mold it’s already deflated. And that’s also true. The film walks a fine line where it wants to be a traditional rom-com, but also be the anti-romantic comedy.
It succeeds when it goes in directions the audience can’t anticipate which is, unfortunately, not very often. It follows the trajectory most viewers will expect, but the few surprises it does offer are refreshing. The one-night stand Lola has with Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) is one of the funniest scenes in the film. He immediately gives off weird vibes, but Lola in her fragile state of loneliness decides to call him anyway. The night is just as weird, and even stranger, than the audience anticipates. Lister-Jones as Alice, Lola’s kooky, desperate-for-a-man best friend also brightens up just about every scene she’s in. Rom-com lore requires the nutty best friend but Lister-Jones is actually able to breathe life into the roll and come across as genuinely funny. Gerwig is also a strong lead and what could have been another whiny, vapid lead becomes a more fleshed out character than she would otherwise be.
Like the duo’s debut film Breaking Upwards, Lola Versus is a romantic comedy that explores the loneliness of post-breakup rather than finding two people come together. It’s a nice twist and it’s reassuring to see a movie full of hipsters that doesn’t take on an ironic tone about its characters or its genre. It’s just that Lola Versus never quite sticks its landing. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of talent, both behind and in front of the camera, and it could make a better-than-usual date movie.
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