Lola (Greta Gerwig) has a decidedly cushy Manhattan existence during the opening credits of "Lola Versus:" a sexy man who proposes marriage, pursuit of a PhD, supportive- if comically deranged- friends and family, and the good looks that attract attention and more privilege.
Though most of this privilege remains intact after the title appears, when Luke (Joel Kinnaman) dumps her at the height of her wedding planning frenzy, her enjoyment of it collapses; and she is set on a path of sometimes self-destructive or self-expanding (binge-eating, forays into promiscuity) behavior.
Lola herself is not that compelling of a character. She is relatively innocent, benevolent, bourgeois, and self-centered but not exorbitantly so. It is the disintegration of her center that makes for decent amusement. She has qualms about approaching thirty, and if her spiral out of emotional control has an adolescent feel to it, it is likely because she has been with the same guy her whole life and has never been propelled into serious self-reflection.
Surrounding Lola are her self-proclaimed unconventional and caring parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman), her snarky BFF, Alice (Zoe Lister Jones), and her Luke’s best bud, Henri (Hamish Linklater), an adorably goofy musician on whom she sets lusty eyes soon after the breakup. Both the soul-searching journey and the relationship strife adhere to indie formula. The formula works to an extent in that the film is entertaining, but there is also unevenness in the characterization and acting.
First of all, the female characters especially seem to embody yuppie-ness. Lola requires rice milk-based icing for her never to be wedding cake, relentlessly blabs or texts on her cellphone in public or when her hypnotherapist prepares to put her under, and video chats with her mom as she runs on a treadmill at a high end gym; Alice completely refashions herself with a fake tan and makeover (inciting one of the film’s more hilarious one-liners from Lola, "I don’t see you for weeks, and now you’re ethnically ambiguous.").
So, it seems incongruent that her dissertation is on the use of silence in literature, which is presented as humorously pretentious in an avant-garde kind of way. Likewise, there are other indicators that these characters are supposed to be edgy, which makes it all a bit muddled.
The frustration is that it is not clear when or to what extent we are meant to be laughing at the characters that we are also supposed to be identifying with. There is awkwardness is the way that Lola and her sidekicks (again, interestingly, the women more than the men) seem designed to be both laughable and likable but are not solidly either.
Also, it is difficult to locate Alice and Lola’s parents. Are they snobbish yuppies, yippies, bourgie bohemians, or just a confused admixture? It’s not that everyone needs to fit nicely into a category but that the writing of Alice and Lola’s mother seems uncertain and contradictory.
Relatedly, Greta Gerwig’s performance of Lola skirts the line between endearing and annoying, with moments of overwrought poutiness. The characters may lack in consistency, believability, and likability at times, but they are given some great one-liners.
A strength of the script is in the witty one-liners that pop up through the formula malaise from time to time, such as Alice’s exclamation (when she accidentally takes a heavy narcotic) that nausea is usually a precursor to orgasm for her, so she just went with it. Maybe it’s better to just go with this fun-loving, reaffirming story and not question the unease along the way.
"Lola Versus" opens June 15 in Boston.