Friday, June 8, 2012

Lola Versus (2012)

Lola Versus (2012)
Dir. Daryl Wein

3.5 out of 5

Romantic comedies strike a hard bargain with moviegoers. In order to replicate the powerfully insurgent feelings associated with falling in (or out of) love, they lean on a heightened version of reality and, in some cases, require a greater suspension of disbelief than an action movie. Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones tried to combat the genre's illusory tendencies with meta-commentary in 2009's Breaking Upwards, which dramatized the dissolution of their real-life relationship. Their latest co-scripted feature,
Lola Versus, has a much more conventional structure but it's also about as honest as these types of films get. Essentially a catalog of what works and what doesn't in a variety of human relationships, it affirms that being in love with one's own self is a prerequisite for loving another. That sounds narcissistic, but Wein and Lister-Jones explore the concept without taking themselves too seriously, molding Lola Versus into something with more warmth and sympathy than you might expect.

It helps that Lola is played by the luminous Greta Gerwig and her everlasting Cheshire Cat grin. Her smile quickly disappears, however, when her fiancé (Joel Kinnaman) gets cold feet a mere three weeks before their wedding. The jilted bride attempts to pick up the pieces with the help of the ex-couple's mutual buddy (Hamish Linklater) and her flibbertigibbet best girlfriend (Lister-Jones). Despite a discouraging stretch that drops Lola in the shallow end of the dating pool and artificially limits her options (too much time is spent on Lola's dalliance with a skeevy rollerblader), the film evolves into something more believable by focusing on her circle of friends. The polar opposite of chaste sidekicks, these supporting characters are aware of their romantic free agency and act accordingly. And though they are there to help guide Lola's wayward heart, they also point out when she's being unreasonable: trying to strike a difficult balance between unapologetic and selfish, Lola is flawed in ways uncommon to rom-com protagonists.

Wein and Lister-Jones' script has a good sense of the comedy-drama rhythm required to pull off the story. Lister-Jones is given a lot of leeway in turning herself into a quip machine (imagine a mousier version of Chelsea Handler), but her rat-a-tat style is a fine complement to Linklater's more relaxed brand of humor. Gerwig is the glue holding it all together, saving the movie from its wackier impulses with a disarming blend of kewpie sweetness and exhausted candor. The wonderfully frank quality she brings to Lola only makes it seem more disingenuous when she makes one last attempt to get back at her ex-fiancé, but she
ends up in the right place thanks to a well-timed intervention from the rest of the ensemble. It's nice to see these characters pick each other up (in more ways than one) as Lola Versus drifts along with the easy affability that makes it a welcome delight, a charming ode to the marvelously dumb things we'll do on account of our marvelously dumb hearts.

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