LOLA VERSUS: Watch It At Home – An Unmemorable Woman
LOLA VERSUS‘ ambition is pretty clear: it wants to be the 2012 version of Paul Mazursky’s 1978 comedy-drama AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, which is to say covering all the bases except the “married” part. We meet Lola (Greta Gerwig) on her 29th birthday, and she seems to have everything a modern young New York woman could want. She’s working on her dissertation in literature, she’s engaged to good-looking, successful artist Luke (Joel Kinnaman, from The Killing), the two share a lovely apartment, she has a best buddy of each gender, Henry (Hamish Linklater) and Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones, who co-wrote the movie with director Daryl Wein), and charmingly eccentric parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger). But within onscreen minutes, Luke has dumped Lola, just like Michael Murphy dumped Jill Clayburgh in 1978, and Lola’s life is upended.
It may be that for this pop culture moment, Lena Dunham’s Girls, as maddeningly uneven as it is, has ruined us for movies like Lola Versus. Girls drives its viewers crazy, because its characters are so narcissistic and self-destructive (Adam? Really?), but there’s a rawness and reality to them that makes them relatable even for people way out of Dunham’s demo. Dunham’s characters live what feel like heightened versions of believable lives–they have trouble making the rent, they’re frustrated at their own lack of purpose, they treat the people they care about like crap. They may act like idiots, but they’re her (and now our) idiots.
Lola Versus, on the other hand, has one familiar foot in standard indie movie territory, and another in network single-camera sitcom. Lola, as a character, has none of the depth Paul Mazursky gave Clayburgh; she’s a collection of cute, superficial traits (she sleeps on the floor when she’s depressed, swallows bags of rice chips when she’s binge-eating, and when she’s storming out of someone’s party, she takes a hunk of brie with her), and looks radiant even when she’s supposed to be suffering. When she has her Bad Rebound Sex, it’s with a yuppie moron (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who’s less disgusting than Girls‘ Adam but makes Dunham’s character seem fully-fleshed out in comparison.
There’s no relief to be had in the supporting characters, either. Luke is a vague nonentity, handed the profession of “artist” like a hat, and it’s never clear (or particularly interesting) why he drifts in and out of wanting to be involved with Lola. The role Lister-Jones wrote for herself is a boilerplate single sidekick part, complete with wacky profession (she acts in the kind of avant-garde plays Neil Simon was making fun of in 1977′s The Goodbye Girl) and desperate plans to meet men. Linklater’s nice-guy best bud has little substance, and Pullman and Winger are mostly used to make jokes about how sexually free the 70s were.
Lola Versus isn’t painful to watch. At 87 minutes, it’s brisk enough, and Wein keeps the New York locations looking bright and gentrified via cinematographer Jakob Ihre. Gerwig, too, is always good company. But it’s not fun watching her play the indie-movie version of a Kate Hudson character. That’s a tiresome path for such an interesting actress to follow.
Wein and Lister-Jones should have watched An Unmarried Woman a few more times before stepping into its genre. For all its Hollywood gloss, Mazursky’s movie has real pain and insight into its protagonist. Lola Versus isn’t for or against anything–it’s just bland.