Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Greta Gerwig, Joel Kinnaman, Zoe Lister Jones, Hamish Linklater, Bill Pullman, Debra Winger
Written by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones
Directed by Daryl Wein (Breaking Upwards)
Greta Gerwig is a special kind of actress. The new indy-film queen really burst into our collective radar opposite Ben Stiller in 2010's Greenberg, and since then she has made it a habit to play quirky every-woman to near perfection.
Earlier this year, Gerwig turned the tables playing a controlling know-it-all in the lousy Damsels in Distress, a film that sucked dry all the qualities that make her great as an actress. With this new role - the title character in Lola Versus - she plays another damsel in distress, but this time it is right in her sweet spot - likeable, charming and real. With Lola, Gerwig creates one of the most conflicted and compelling female characters in recent memory.
It's the sort of role begging for nominations. Almost halfway through 2012, she is certainly on my short list with this performance.
At the beginning of Lola Versus, Lola's life is borderline amazing. She has a loving boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman), and the two have great chemistry together. Things progress naturally and he proposes. Lola plans her wedding and her future, until she returns home one day to see a troubled look on Luke's face. Cold feet leave Lola in hot water, and her entire world begins to unravel when Luke calls off the wedding with just three weeks to go.
By her side to aide her are her two best friends. First there is Henry (Hamish Linklater), the tall, gumpy and always sarcastic yin to Lola's yang. Then there is the outrageous Alice (Zoe Lister Jones, who also co-wrote), who channels the dirty eccentricity of a Chelsea Handler as Lola's wacky and vulnerable partner-in-crime.
Lola is also is in close contact with her loving hippy parents played by Debra Winger and Bill Pullman, each of whom delightfully chew up the screen given their few scenes. It's an example of perfect casting.
Add to her boy problems, Lola is on the verge of 30 and hitting rock bottom. So with the help of her friends and parents she tries to straighten her ship. When Luke reappears in her life, things become all the more complicated.
All of this happens in the first 15 minutes or so, and the set-up is nothing too ground-breaking. Thousands of romantic comedies have seasoned us to believe that we know what is coming. All of the basic components are there: Lola is our depressed dumpee, Luke is the selfish boyfriend, Alice is the zany comic relief and Henry is the nice guy friend eagerly awaiting his moment to confess his love for our protagonist, and to open her eyes...that what she has been looking for has really been there all along.
It is at that point when Lola Versus gives us real people to observe instead of the cardboard cliches that we are used to in this genre. Expectations be damned, as rom-com conventional wisdom is peeled away and discarded layer by layer. Almost nothing turns out the way you would anticipate, and the detours reveal real truths about modern-day relationships and human emotions.
As we root for Lola - as we would root for say, Meg Ryan in a similar film - we slowly see her reveal her true nature. Much of what is happening in her life is self-inflicted. She can't seem to make any rational decisions. Credit the veru sharp script and Greta Gerwig for making Lola seem so real. She's neither good nor bad. Nobody in the film fits into any particular mold, at least as to where the characters end up.
Lola Versus flips the script on what we know about romantic comedies and teaches us new life lessons relevant to 2012. You know the one about how you have to love yourself before you can love others? Lola contemplates that it may be the other way around.
Lola truly is tackling a great number of things, and in doing so she exposes many issues that we all battle: Fear, commitment, self-respect, sex, friendship and love, to name a few. Common themes for sure, but seen from a fresh angle with clarity.
It is a funny, touching and meaningful film plus it features one of the best female performances of the year. I for one, was enthralled seeing Lola take on the world, with only herself standing in the way of victory. The real victory here belongs to the filmmakers for creating such a unique commentary on how challenging it can be to battle one's demons.
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