After years of toiling in near obscurity as being mumblecore’s first ever “darling,” Greta Gerwig finally gets a shot at a leading role in a somewhat more modestly budgeted and marketed, but no less mumblecore-ish indie comedy Lola Versus, a movie that’s far better than I probably just made it sound with the rest of that sentence. The effortlessly charming Gerwig and director Daryl Wein work within the same template that made HBO’s Girls successful, but without a lot of the snark, far more emotion, and a great deal of heart.
After just turning 29 and being dumped by her only even boyfriend just before they are about to get married, Manhattanite Lola finds solace from her depression in her crush on her ex’s best buddy (Hamish Linklater) and her hard partying best friend (Zoe Lister Jones, who also co-wrote). Lola bounces around the dating world somewhat aimlessly despite clearly being hung up on her ex and having obvious feelings for the one man always willing to give her the time of day despite the potential complications starting a relationship with him brings.
Much like the aforementioned and often divisive Girls and the works of director Sofia Coppola, Lola Versus definitely qualifies as they type of film that requires a specific frame of reference from the audience. As a character, Lola isn’t always particularly likable or sympathetic and the Wein takes great pains to keep the specific outcomes of things as vague as life itself, which will probably lead to some people balking at the premise right from the start. What makes the film ultimately work despite a few flaws, however, is that these character feel real enough to be believable.
Normally this would be the kind of film that drives me up the wall or would send me running screaming for the exits as soon as it was over, but in its assembly of young life on the cusp of middle age as a series of moments feels charming in spite of some not so charming actions on the part of the characters. Some of that charm comes from the screenplay from Wein and Jones, which despite some occasionally wonky expository dialogue, knows exactly when to be silly and when to be serious, acting as an idealized version of how memories and looking back one one’s life often looks.
The biggest amount of warmth here comes from the cast, especially Gerwig who proves once and for all that she could in fact be leading lady material in bigger and better films. She seems to understand the character and her foibles so well that it looks effortless and breezy. Ditto the usually extremely inconsistent Linklater who gives a genuine and heartfelt performance as a guy who might seem confused on the surface, but only because he keeps his cards close to his chest. Bill Pullman also shows up in a not all that necessary but still amusing smaller role as Lola’s father.
It’s pretty lightweight stuff, but it’s an interesting summertime confection that feels more believable than any other romantic comedy or drama so far this year. Aside from the performances it probably won’t stick out in viewers minds for very long and the ending follows in the recent indie tradition of not actually having a real conclusion, but it will definitely bring a smile to the faces of most.
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger
Directed by: Daryl Wein
Top image: A scene from Lola Versus. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.