So, it turns out that being a rich and beautiful young woman in New York City can be tough. You see, there’s this 29-year-old girl named Lola (Greta Gerwig) who has everything going for her. She’s slowly whittling away on a grad thesis on silence in poetry and prose (sure, why not?) but spends most of her time lounging with her boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) in his ridiculously spacious New York loft or attending various parties and shopping sprees with her wise-cracking rom-com best friend Alice (Zoe Lister Jones). Then Joel proposes, a destination wedding is planned in Peru, and life seems oh-so perfect… well, until Luke gets cold feet three weeks before the big day sending Lola into a spiraling twenty-something depression. She dates weird vegans, beds her skinny jeans wearing band boy best friend Henry (Hamish Linklater), hooks up with Luke even though he’s seeing someone else, drinks excessively, and cries quite a bit. Now she does seem to have no problem keeping up her lifestyle in her own New York apartment, presumably thanks to her rich parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger who leave no baby boomer cliché unchecked). The fact that impending graduation and the ever present interest from any number of eligible New York bohemian bachelor types promises a new future just around the corner doesn’t seem to matter. She’s in a rut dammit and only a magical movie moment of redemption can get her out.
Thus, we have an awkward/cute comedy about the challenges of growing up in an age when adolescence can reach deep into your thirties. Co-writer/director Daryl Wein’s movie is not without its charms (particularly that other adorkable indie film queen Greta Gerwig), but it’s not the most relatable movie in the world. Woody Allen has taken a lot of flack over the years for writing about the petty problems of rich Manhattan types, but at least his characters were always damaged enough to be relatable through neurosis if not social class. That’s true in moments and sections of Lola Versus, but for the most part the issues are so small and the solutions so easily attainable that it’s difficult for anyone who isn’t a member of this particular New York subculture to find it relatable. It probably doesn’t help that the film is hitting screens at the same time that Lena Dunham’s Girls is airing on HBO, tackling similar subject matter and characters with a harsher sense of reality and no need to wrap things up with breezy comedy closure after 90 minutes.
Fortunately, Lola Verus does have Greta Gerwig going for it and she has a very specific gift for playing charmingly dorky and clueless characters. With another actress, it would be pretty easy to despise Lola outright, yet something about Gerwig’s gentle comedic and self-mocking touch makes her empathetic. Zoe Lister Jones is also quite entertaining as Lola’s best friend who never met a designer drug or vagina joke she didn’t like. Jones co-wrote the script and clearly saved the best zingers for herself. Even though a few fall flat, she’s got a way with sarcasm and manages to bring just enough weight to the character to make her more than Chelsea Handler light (thank god). Kinnaman’s alter dodging boyfriend is more of a plot device than a character, but thankfully he’s not around much unless Lola needs to be sent off into a shame spiral. The other dudes that float in and out of Lola’s life are essentially sketch comedy archetypes, except for Hamish Linklater’s hipster, who walks just the right line between parody and sad reality.
In the end, there’s nothing hugely, frustratingly wrong with Lola Versus. Given the subject matter, tone, and mainstream mumblecore-ish vibe, the movie does exactly what it needs to do. Led by Gerwig, the cast make the privileged problems of the leads fairly relatable and Wein makes the film zip along painlessly. Your enjoyment of the Lola Versus will essentially come down to how you feel about these types of movies. If you find these sorts of characters nauseatingly self-obsessed and devoid of any genuine life problems, have a vomit bag ready. If you find these sorts of stories charmingly relatable, buckle up for a slice of affluent life. Personally, I fell somewhere in the middle. There were isolated performances and scenes that clicked, but for the most part it felt like fluff about a character who hit a speed bump more than a life crisis. There are definitely worse movies out there and plenty of better ones as well. It’s kind of mediocre, possibly because it’s made by a group of young folks trying to figure out how to mature as artists themselves.