Review: Lola Versus (2012)
It’s not quite there, is it?
Lola (Greta Gerwig), the title character of “Lola Versus,” is cute and quirky and not quite there herself. She’s a Ph.D. student working on her dissertation on the use of silence in 19th century French literature but she doesn’t seem like a Ph.D. student working on a dissertation. She’s living with her boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman), a painter, who doesn't seem like a painter, and who proposes, but I don’t get much chemistry from them, and I never get him, particularly when he backs out of the wedding at the 11th hour, then returns abjectly, then... whatever. The various ways they keep him in the picture. Lola has a neurotic, Jewish female friend, Alice (Zoe Lister Jones), and a mellow, Jewish, male friend, Henry (Hamish Linklater), who is destined to become the Love Interest, and she’s cute and relatable and ... who cares? That’s what I thought about an hour in. The movie wasn’t true enough to hold my interest. There weren’t enough honest moments. There was too much Fox and not enough Searchlight.
After the screening at the Seattle International Film Festival, writer-director Daryl Wein and his co-screenwriter (and domestic partner) Lister Jones, in town for the screening, talked about how they based their screenplay on the dating horror stories of their single, female friends in New York. There was a Q&A, which I didn’t participate in, but if I did I would’ve asked this: How many of those horror stories are embodied in the character of Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach)?
Nick is actually one of my favorite parts of the movie. He’s so creepy in such an off-kilter way. The way he stares a second too long and deeply. The way he pauses. His pretentiousness. His tighty-whities that aren’t even white and which seem more like girls’ panties than anything. He gives me the SHIVERS.
“I didn’t want to be a prison architect,” he says over dinner at his place. “That just kind of happened.” He’ll be remembered by most moviegoers as the incubator baby—it’s why he’s so big, he says—but to me his creepiness exudes throughout the performance, and I wondered how much of it came from the script and how much came from Moss-Bachrach, who seems like the real deal. I’m assuming at least 50-50. At the same time, for the movie’s sake, shouldn’t we have gotten a montage of bad dates? First date could be prison architect, second date tighty-whities, third date incubator baby. Instead they’re all merged into Nick. They make him too big not to fail.
The movie has a vague, indy spirit, and sometimes the comedy is witty and intellectual. A pretentious, avant-garde theater piece is overdone, sure, but I burst out laughing at its title: “Pogrom!” When Nick rollerblades away, saying, awfully, “Have a blessed day,” Henry, who’s been waiting at Lola’s stoop with scones, turns on her and they have this conversation:
Lola: If it’s any consolation, his dick was so big it hurt my back.
Henry: That’s a consolation? You should go into the greeting card business.
But the Hollywood formula is visible, like a coloring-book outline, and Wein and Lister Jones mostly stay within the lines. Lola has, Lola loses, Lola tries to recover, Lola comes to a realization about life and love. It’s actually a good realization for a change. Throughout, she’s relied too heavily on her friends, and takes them for granted, and objects too strongly when Alice winds up with Henry, but in the end she has her epiphany. She tells Alice she’s always been told that to love other people you have to learn to love yourself; but she’s found it’s the opposite. To love herself she has to learn to love other people. It’s a nice moment. It’s a push away from the sometimes solipsism of youth, and the inevitable solipsism of storytelling—the focus on one character—and into something larger. Then the movie shrinks it back again.
Should I talk about the end? Lola turns 30, bookending her 29th birthday party at the beginning, and throws a re-birthday party for herself at which Luke tries to win her back. But she’s fine without him now. She’s fine by herself. And we got a scene with her, later, wearing a nice outfit, and happily buying flowers from an outdoor flower shop. She’d already talked to her mom (Debra Winger) about how Cinderella messes girls up, and makes them obsessed with shoes, and she’s wearing an impressive pair here: white, with heels an inch or two tall, and as she walks away she stumbles on the sidewalk and crumples to the ground. Attempting to retain some dignity, she picks herself up and continues on her shaky, careful way.
That’s your ending.
But it doesn’t end there. They give us another scene where she returns to her apartment, puts the flowers in water, and looks around at her small, neat place with a small, neat smile. The End.
Too bad. It shouldn’t have been about the self-satisfied smile; it should have been about continuing after the stumble. Because that's what it's about.