Lola Versus starts with such promise: Lola (Greta Gerwig), on the beach, engaging in morning yoga while through voiceover informing us about life and the changes on the horizon. In particular, she alerts us to the fact that she (like most of us) is not good with change. She wants the steadiness and the security of the routine. She wants her life to be like the quiet stretching and deep breathing, the calm meditation practice of yoga, but we all know life, despite brief moments where such peacefulness may result, is anything but.
So the shit hits the fan. Luke (Joel Kinnaman making his break from the hit AMC series The Killing), her perfectly tall, even more perfect artist boyfriend who happens to cook delicious vegetarian fare for her, decides to pop the question. She says yes, of course, and embarks on the whole crazy whirlwind affair of preparing for a wedding: shopping with her best friends Henry (Hamish Linklater) and Alice (co-screenwriter Zoe Lister Jones) and spending time with her parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger), hip free spirits who seem to happily exist in their own parallel worlds with Lola as the tiny bridge between them, all while studiously building a case for her dissertation on the silence in poetry versus the lack of silence in the modern world.
The bottom falls out though, when Luke gets cold feet and informs Lola that he needs to call the whole wedding thing off. Lola turns into a young hatchling, losing control of not just her sense of balance but also her physical self. She becomes all loose-limbed and askew, in need of people to feed her, to provide her with the will to live. She is lost.
Gerwig captures the little lost girl aspect of Lola so well because this is who she has been onscreen up to this point. She is the Mumblecore princess of Hannah Takes the Stairs and Baghead who transitioned to Greenberg as Ben Stiller’s romantic object of obsession then on to the remake of Arthur, a misfire opposite Russell Brand, but still in fine form because she has convinced audiences through each of these performances that she simply is when she’s onscreen. There’s a natural lightness of being in her when she stands before the camera. Gerwig is not fighting the frame or our expectations of her in it.
But that’s exactly what’s missing here, a bit of anger or frustration with the potential to bubble and boil over into some real rage. Lola Versus is all about the multi-front battles that Lola must wage against life in the cruel city, so that she doesn’t get lost among all of those other stories and characters in the mix. Lola confronts love and the conflicting feelings she has for Luke (and his feelings for her) — love versus hate — and the other men she encounters, specifically her friend Henry, also a friend of Luke’s, who has been not so secretly carrying a torch for her for years. On this battlefield, Lola proves more than capable of dishing out hurt to match her own wounds. And Lola stands toe-to-toe with the specter of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, who I happen to believe was one of the most self-involved characters to grace the screen. Carrie had three best girlfriends and a line of men weaving through all five boroughs and into upstate New York, all in service to her whims.
Yet, Lola lacks the fire and ability to command her army of one into any sort of inspired unified action. She, as portrayed by Gerwig, is perpetually dazed and confused, again quite naturally so, and there’s even a sense that she’s quite cute in her own way, but she (Lola and Gerwig) refuses to fight back against anything. She fails the Carrie test and even the new standard set by Lena Dunham who, with her breakthrough HBO series Girls, has now taken over the female in the city market. Dunham’s Girls captures girls on the verge, the awkward transition into young adulthood in a way that has made me feel like I need to scrub my soul after watching each episode, but the show is spot-on in its rendering of the fight and the will to survive in its girls after each vicious takedown.
That’s what I wanted to see in Lola, and also in Gerwig. I needed to believe that when life and love knocked her to the canvas, she had it in her to get back up, to develop the scar tissue necessary to keep at it and grow. Lola Versus shows a woman and actress rolling on the mat. Maybe next time. (R)