Greta Gerwig is exactly the kind of actress you want to see headlining a comedy. She’s fresh, funny, intelligent, attractive and spontaneous. She makes every film a little more unique just by being in it, and that’s definitely the case with “Lola Versus.”
Which is a good thing, because “Lola Versus” needs all the help it can get. A cinematic oxymoron, it’s an utterly standard unconventional comedy. 29-year-old New Yorker Lola (Gerwig) thinks she has the world figured out: she’ll marry her hunky artist boyfriend (Joel Kinnaman of “The Killing”) and enter her thirties on a fast track to happiness. But when the boyfriend suddenly gets cold feet, Lola is left alone and adrift.
Her best friend (Zoe Lister-Jones, who also co-wrote the movie with director Daryl Wein) encourages her to sleep around. Another friend (Hamish Linklater) discloses secret romantic feelings. Her hippie parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, both too fleetingly seen) simply want her to be happy.
This sort of single girl in the city struggling to find herself and stumbling through awkward sexual encounters story will inevitably be compared to HBO’s buzz comedy “Girls” — which Wein and Lister-Jones probably couldn’t have anticipated. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that “Lola Versus” strains to come off as raw and real when it’s dealing directly with Lola’s issues (cue multiple shots of Gerwig weeping alone in her apartment), and settles for the sit-com banality of trite raunchy punchlines and one dimensional characters everywhere else.
It’s difficult to take the movie seriously when Lister-Jones is dropping lines like “I’m gonna go wash my vagina,” with all the sophistication of a supporting player in an Adam Sandler opus. An equally irksome subplot involves Lola’s creepy courtship with a prison architect (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) that’s like something a bored “Sex and the City” writer tossed off when they couldn’t figure out what else to with Charlotte for a week.
Gerwig charms, to be sure. She makes Lola interesting even when the writing doesn’t, but there’s only so much she can do in a vacuum. She already had a terrific showcase in this year’s “Damsels in Distress,” fitting in perfectly with the idiosyncratic worldview of filmmaker Whit Stillman and flourishing opposite talented co-stars. It would be nice to say she was able to build on that success. Maybe next time.
“Lola Versus” starts in a relatable place — most people have had relationships that didn’t work out, and understand the pain and uncertainty inherent in that situation — adds just the right leading lady, and still falls flat on its face. It’s all dressed up in hipster clothes, but its soul is pure pop schlock.
“Lola Versus” opens in limited release June 8