Blu-ray Review: Greta Gerwig Ambles Pleasantly Through ‘Lola Versus’

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CHICAGO – From “(500) Days of Summer” to “Ruby Sparks,” Fox Searchlight has been distributing some of the most refreshingly honest films about twentysomething romance in recent memory. The unapologetically flawed titular heroine in “Lola Versus” may have appeared more groundbreaking had she not debuted the same year as HBO’s “Girls,” which has the market cornered on such heroines.

Like her former roommate, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, Greta Gerwig got her start in microbudget indies. She created a transfixing screen persona that was as disarmingly deadpan as it was heartbreakingly vulnerable. By the time she turned up in Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg,” Gerwig sported an effortless comic charisma reminiscent of vintage Diane Keaton. She seemed poised for stardom, and though 2012 has given her a variety of showcases, none of them have lived up to their potential. Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0
Blu-ray Rating: 2.5/5.0

“Lola Versus” is perhaps her most disappointing star vehicle to date since it provides her with a character nestled deeply within her comfort zone. As Lola, a 29-year-old woman in a tailspin, Gerwig makes her usual pouty facial expressions while blowing through her lips in exasperation. She ambles along pleasantly but never really gets much of anywhere, and the same could be said of the film itself. Director Daryl Wein and his co-writer Zoe Lister Jones have a background in low-budget indies (their previous feature collaboration was 2009’s “Breaking Upwards”), and though they seem remarkably assured in their first big-budget effort, their storytelling falters at many crucial moments. Consider the opening sequence, as Lola busies herself with wedding preparations until her loving fiancé suddenly breaks up with her off-camera. Why the sudden break-up? Apparently the guy got cold feet, but that explanation is too one-note to satisfy. Did Lola somehow drive him away? The audience never gets a sense of that either. Basically, the ex emerges as an infuriating schmuck, while Lola is left to flounder through a series of awkward dates as her carefully planned future crumbles to pieces. For a film about the complexities of young adulthood, the character motivations are naggingly shallow.

Lola Versus was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 11, 2012.
Lola Versus was released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 11, 2012.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Though Lola is about five years older than the female quartet on “Girls,” her maturity level seems more akin to that of a naïve adolescent. Some critics are already claiming that Gerwig is only capable of playing Lola-esque women, a claim that would be swiftly squashed by a single viewing of Alison Bagnall’s “The Dish & the Spoon.” The trailblazing brilliance and piercing insight of Dunham’s “Girls” makes this film look painfully tame and broad in comparison. That being said, there are a handful of laughs to be had, many of them delivered by Jones herself as Lola’s sardonic best friend. She has a line that gets at the heart of Gerwig’s distinctive appeal, as Lola rattles off a nonchalant stream of consciousness. “Who put your sentences together?” Jones asks incredulously, while comparing her to a bad DJ. I was reminded of the lovemaking scene in “Greenberg” when Ben Stiller’s foreplay fails to ease Gerwig’s restless mind (“Is that a train?” she asks). Hamish Linklater also charms as Lola’s friend who seems destined to become her next lover (it’s a credit to the script that this subplot does not unfold as one would expect). Wein’s film is a reasonably good effort, but it just isn’t quite good enough.

“Lola Versus” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks. Wein and Jones’s real-life chemistry is apparent in their delightful commentary track while Gerwig reveals just how nervous she was on the set. One of the chief things that appealed to her about Lola was the specificity of her profession since many indie protagonists merely have “vague artistic endeavors” obviously modeled after those of the filmmakers themselves. The brightest highlights on the disc are 12 minutes of deleted scenes that include an alternate ending (paying off on Lola’s evolving opinion of silence) and the actual break-up scene left on the cutting room floor. It doesn’t make the break-up any less inexplicable or Lola’s ex look like any less of a maddening chump, but it does give Gerwig the opportunity to look into the lens with a crestfallen expression that is just shattering. Any critic who still regards Gerwig as a flash in the pan doesn’t know the first thing about star power (or pans, for that matter).

‘Lola Versus’ is released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and stars Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister Jones, Hamish Linklater, Joel Kinnaman, Debra Winger and Bill Pullman. It was written by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones and directed by Daryl Wein. It was released on September 11, 2012. It is rated R. staff writer Matt Fagerholm

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