Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tepid dose of girl angst with Woody ambitions

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THE title is trying to be ambiguous, but let me help you: Daryl Wein's sophomore feature may as well read Lola Versus the Audience.

No. That's not a flip way of saying this movie punches you in the face with a haymaker of stupidity -- although, some may feel a tad bruised by the final credits.

It just means so much of what you think about this movie will depend on how you feel about its central character, Lola (Greta Gerwig), a self-centred college grad who feels her life should have turned out differently.

She thinks she should be married to Luke (Joel Kinnaman), the tall, dark and handsome fella she's been with since college. Unfortunately, Luke thinks he needs space three weeks before the wedding, leaving Lola in a downward spiral that takes everyone down with her.

The first character to get a Lola swirlie is Henry (Hamish Linklater), the nice guy who always had a crush on her but gets tossed aside like a dirty napkin. After that cycle of desperation draws to a close, it's her best friend Alice (Zoe Lister Jones) who gets pulled into the vortex.

Given that it was Lister Jones who penned the script, it's not surprising that Alice is the most empathetic character in this stew pot of 20-something angst. Quick with a quip and loyal despite her best friend's tedious self-reflections, Alice feels like she strayed off the set of Sex and the City -- and continues to exist in the same episodic reality where life is timed for a joke or a commercial break.

She's not hard to take, really, because her lines are witty -- even they feel entirely like script, and not real life.

Harder to swallow is Lola, the high-maintenance fairy princess at the heart of the film. Lola feels so victimized by Luke's broken promise, she wages battle against the whole world. At first, we're sympathetic because it always hurts to get dumped, and Lola's flagging self-esteem is entirely unwarranted.

She let a jerk get the better of her, and that's too bad, but the dogs bark and the caravan moves on.

The problem is Lola can't let go, and once we realize just how entrenched she is in her own misery, the movie starts to feel like an ingrown toenail.

So much of the drama on screen is the result of neglect or sheer selfishness, making it hard to keep Lola and her hapless entourage of enabling nitwits close to the viewer's heart.

Because Gerwig is a screen presence with her very own aura, there's a pull in spite of all the flaws.

Moving around like a latter-day Theda Bara on laudanum, Gerwig seems to bump up against the edges of frame and character with all the intentional intensity of a catatonic.

In some ways, this actually works to the film's advantage because it forces us to see how Lola establishes herself as the sun, and sees everyone else as a loose scrap of space debris.

She's not a bad person. She knows she's flawed and she even has a heart to heart about it with her dad, played by the increasingly avuncular Bill Pullman, but her self-awareness doesn't net any enlightenment.

Inevitably, by the final frames, the script forces Lola into a new state of consciousness, but it doesn't seem earned. Nor is it in any way emotional.

Gerwig's Lola proves a rather empty vessel in the end, but at least she floats and proves worthy of holding our attention -- the way one casually stares at an empty bleach bottle slowly blowing across a lake.

It's not that we really care what happens to it as it bobs along, but the very sight of such trash animated by the forces around it remains fleetingly fascinating, and Gerwig keeps Lola's buoyancy at just the right level.

Granted, that's not enough to make this movie more than a tepid dose of girl angst with ambitions of being Woody Allen, but it does make it somewhat memorable.

-- Postmedia News

Other voices

Selected excerpts from reviews of Lola Versus.

It's such a mopey, navel-gazing affair that even Gerwig has a hard time saving it.

-- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

Lola Versus is all Greta all the time, a bonanza for fans and proof that Gerwig's easy offbeat charm, obvious smarts and physical comedy gifts can carry a film.

-- Jennie Punter, Globe and Mail

There's a Fitzgeraldian sense of generational malaise in all of this, but Lola Versus is convinced it's hilarious.

-- Rafer Guzman, Newsday

It's a wonder Gerwig manages to keep the character endearing instead of grating, but she does.

-- Tom Long, Detroit News

Gerwig remains one of the most captivating new stars to hit the big screen, but she's still looking for a movie that deserves her.

-- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

Screenwriters Daryl Wein (who also directed) and Zoe Lister Jones give Gerwig very little to do other than to be Gerwig.

-- Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Lola Versus is a heavyweight fight Gerwig just can't win.

-- Graham Killeen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

A more or less conventional sitcom in indie disguise, the film functions most effectively as a low-wattage starring vehicle for the habitually charming Gerwig...

-- John Beifuss, Commercial Appeal (Memphis)

Gerwig finally emerges bruised but resilient at the end. So it's not a total loss.

-- Kelly Vance, East Bay Express

It's a testament to the charm of actress Greta Gerwig that she can save this sluggish script.

-- Mike Scott, Times-Picayune

Gerwig is groovy, but Lola is lacking.

-- Clint O'Connor, Cleveland Plain Dealer

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

Movie Review

Lola Versus

Starring Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister Jones and Hamish Linklater



87 minutes

Two stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 G5

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