Published Jun 14, 2012Indie queen and recent Whit Stillman ingénue Greta Gerwig has combated her fair share of difficult scripts. While she has worked wonders with the non-existent (Joe Swanberg's exceptional Nights and Weekends) and heightened the fundamentally flawed (Greenberg), she never really stood a chance against Lola Versus.
Penned by director Daryl Wein and co-star Zoe Lister Jones, Lola focuses on Gerwig's titular heroine, a grad student and semi-charmed Manhattanite whose world falls apart when her long-time boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman), jilts her weeks before their wedding. Wein deals with the setup briskly, providing a quick-hit portrait of an initially likable Lola just before the collapse.
You've met Lola's peer group before: wacky best friend Alice (Lister Jones), buddy/struggling musician/potential love interest Henry (a miscast Hamish Linklater) and the aforementioned ex-boyfriend/painter. Oh, and Bill Pullman and Debra Winger turn up as tech-savvy, hippie parents. Yes, it sounds like a forgettable sitcom and it often plays like one too.
Like so many '90s, NYC-set half-hour comedies (though not the one about nothing), Lola's Manhattan boasts massive rent-controlled apartments, affordable gourmet foodstuffs and plenty of sunshine.
After the advent of Girls, and also, seven years on from Andrew Bujalski's zeitgeist capturing Mutual Appreciation, a New York City predicated on the Friends mythos – a bygone world even back then – rings particularly false. Of course, being either out of touch or nostalgic is hardly an egregious offence.
But a good sitcom, especially one writ large, has a fundamental requirement: it has to entice viewers to hang out therein. Pretty shots of the city are a decent start, though the problem lies in the characters' total ambivalence and egotism, which would be passable if they were played for laughs. They're not.
Furthermore, while the title may imply a struggle, the plot has little actual conflict to propel it, as Lola drifts from bed-to-bed and one faux calamity to another, testing Gerwig's typically reliable off-kilter charisma and the audience's attention span. There is a solid Ani DiFranco allusion, though it's not worth the slog. (Fox)