It’s one girl against the world in “Lola Versus,” a snappy yet sincere romantic comedy that begins where others end, with the proposal and wedding plans pointing toward happily ever after. Then the groom gets cold feet and upsets Lola’s whole existence, sending the movie down a road simultaneously familiar and refreshingly real, where Fox Searchlight production values complement a pair of emerging indie voices. Though much of the appeal hinges on Greta Gerwig’s lead turn, that’s also a limitation, since going from lovable to adorable isn’t much of an arc. June 8 release will suffer versus flashier summer fare.
On the brink of 30, Lola thinks she has her life more or less figured out: She’s nearly finished with her dissertation, cozily cohabiting with mouth-breather boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman, cute but apathetic) and eager to start planning her wedding. But nuptial arrangements have a way of petrifying the commitment-phobic, and Luke pulls the plug just as the big day is drawing close, which sends Lola’s life reeling back about a decade.
Popular on Variety
Lucky for her, this New York gal has two sitcom-worthy pals to fall back on. There’s platonic best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater), who clearly nurses a crush on Lola, and sardonic sidekick Alice (Zoe Lister-Jones). Porting over habits from her supporting role on NBC’s “Whitney,” Lister-Jones plays the sort of party guest who keeps marijuana mouthspray handy in her purse and tosses off lines like, “I gotta go wash my vagina.”
Trading on the advice-column wisdom that it takes roughly a month to get over every year of a relationship, the film makes remarkably brisk work of Lola’s slow re-entry to single life. Paved with makeup sex, rebound flings and other mildly amusing missteps, this trip might feel unbearably trite were it not for Gerwig’s casual charm, reflected in a familiar cut of the eyes or pout of the lips. At a moment when Hollywood hasn’t found its next Meg Ryan, the mumblecore muse seems like its best bet: an actress who’s compelling enough doing nothing that the instant she does something, drama blooms.
This is a transitional project for writer-director Daryl Wein and co-scribe Lister Jones, the creative duo behind the semi-autobiographical indie “Breaking Upwards.” Without sacrificing those observational touches that make the situation feel authentic, the screenwriting couple (who also exec produce) have adapted to the tightly scripted, laugh-driven format expected of romantic comedies, creating peripheral roles juicy enough to attract thesps such as Bill Pullman and Debra Winger. Those two play Lola’s hippie parents, who hold a looser view of relationships than she, as the raspy-voiced and slightly spacey Pullman duteously reminds his daughter.
Working with a bigger budget allows for additional amenities as well, including a great hipster score by Fall on Your Sword and lovely lensing (radiant outdoors, functional inside) from gifted Swedish d.p. Jakob Ihre. While the result differs considerably from the amateurish, improv-driven efforts of many of Wein and Lister-Jones’ indie contemporaries, there’s a sense that amid the spiff and polish, they’ve sacrificed something of their own voice along the way. “Lola Versus” feels square by comparison with a show like HBO’s “Girls,” which makes the uncertainty of one’s 20s seem positively terrifying, rather than just an awkward second act to be survived en route to personal stability.
In the end, the script seems to imply that Lola is too self-absorbed, in which case resolution depends on her realizing how her actions affect others. But that’s sort of an unfair take-away, considering the film has been every bit as preoccupied with her affairs as she is. To paraphrase Luke, she’s Lola — anyone would be lucky to marry her, so what’s she worried about? Even when she feels most alone, audiences will always be on her side.