As you move into your thirties alone the standard line shifts from “you’re still young yet” to some assertion that you’re actually lucky: people who get together in their twenties haven’t really had the time to figure out what it is they want or need. It may be true, or it may not, but it’s easy to say and will probably make the hearer feel good if they don’t think about it too much. This kind of unconsidered platitude is the core of Lola Versus with its Brooklyn-hipster take on the romantic comedy. And if these feel-good sentiments vie with Williamsburg for your affections, you’re going to love this movie; if not, it’s going to drag.
Lola (Greta Gerwig) turns 29 on the day her boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman) proposes to her. Nine months later — an interval pregnant with symbolism — he calls it off. Lola is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath, with varying levels of support from her friends Alice (co-writer Zoe Lister-Jones) and Henry (Hamish Linklater) and her parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman), who seem to be rich ex-hippies. Despite the good fortune to get this chance to mature and grow as a person before getting married and raising a family, Lola is distraught.
Nearly everyone we see is tragically, tragically hip. Luke paints or something to afford his enormous, rent-stabilized loft; Alice acts off-off-off-Broadway; Henry leads a band where he’s aiming for David Byrne but lands closer to Peter Murphy. Lola has the “cool parents”. The only notable exception is a crushingly awkward Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), with whom Lola goes on an embarrassingly ill-advised rebound date.
Which is not to say that this is a bad thing, per se. It is to say that I spent half the movie waiting for everyone’s pretentious self-seriousness to reach up and bite them, or at least for someone to have a real personal insight. But no such luck.
It seems almost hard to believe that none of these characters have the perspective to see this all as another episode of Pretty White Kids with Problems, complete with the Token Black Guy (Jay Pharoah) who does evidently have a name, but I couldn’t have come up with it before seeing the credits. And it’s partly because — despite the fact that this is a comedy and includes some funny lines and situations here and there — writer/director Daryl Wein is right there with Lola and the rest in taking this all so seriously.
And just how do you do that with a cast of stock characters? Lola is Gerwig’s standard well-off, self-absorbed girl. Alice is Lister-Jones’ “edgy” urbanite, straight out of Whitney; she excuses herself from her first full scene by explaining — apropos of and related to nothing — that she is going to wash her vagina, which is exactly as shocking and funny as it sounds.
But the movie doesn’t just take its situations too seriously, it takes itself too seriously. Wein punctuates Lola’s explanation of her doctoral thesis as exploring our society’s pathological fear of silences with — any guesses? — silence. Followed by her discomfort at more silence after the cut. Get it? because she was talking about how uncomfortable silences are, and then we see her being uncomfortable with silences.
Lola Versus is full of these softball gimmicks, and is tickled to death with itself over them. But if you don’t use cheap tricks and flatter the audience for getting them, you have nothing left to fall back on but actually writing a real story with real characters, and what could ever be hip about that?
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.