Life passes nonlinearly and challenges unrewardingly. Life can suck – so we go to the movies.
Beyond the tired, but true, refrain that films provide escapism, movies comfort because they present time linearly (or at least systematically), unravel logically, and always deliver reward at the summit of a challenge. The best movies make sense.
Our expectation that movies will provide relief from everyday life is why Daryl Wein’s latest feature Lola Versus doesn’t work. It just doesn’t make sense.
Set within the same New York City dystopia that infected lovers in Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Lola Versus aims to chronicle a similar apocalypse. Lola, (Greta Gerwig) a spirited East Villager frightened by her impending 29th birthday, finds renewal when her boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnenman) proposes marriage. Yet, after weeks of excited preparation, Luke inexplicably rescinds his offer of marriage and forces Lola to move out.
For the remainder of the film, Lola’s life sucks. She vegetates on her sofa, listless and gluttonous. She oscillates between sleeping with the confused Luke and their mutual friend, Henry, (Hamish Linklater) becoming increasingly entangled in a sticky web of emotions. She alternates between confiding in her best friend Alice (Zoe Lister Jones) and not speaking with her for weeks. For the remainder of the film, Lola is exactly who we are in real life, lacking any semblance of the hero we look for in films.
I recently spoke with Greta Gerwig about her portrayal of Lola. While she didn’t connect with Lola’s specific desire of marriage, Gerwig did connect with Lola’s emotional rollercoaster, resulting in a strong, believable performance.
“It was pretty organic for me to connect with Lola… I did feel a pull towards her. I’m very familiar with the feeling of being a mess or being confused. I think this movie did that in a very funny, real way. “
Being “real” was undeniably the intent of Lola Versus. Director Daryl Wein and the Lola team are members of the mumblecore community, the indie film group notable for films like Cyrus and Your Sister’s Sister. Mumblecore films reject Hollywood constructions in favor of more natural filmmaking.
Some mumblecore films achieve this naturalism brilliantly, but others, like Lola Versus, just result unorganized. Granted, antiheroes are sometimes the most intriguing of film characters precisely because their frenzied vices mirror our own. Yet, audiences can’t connect with Lola in her dystopia either simply because she alternates her sights so often. There is little continuity in the details of her character and when Lola eventually comes to a final resolution, we don’t remember the arc that guided her there.
Not only is Lola’s character thematically jumbled, but the rest of the film is too. The filmmakers provide little explanation for Luke’s cancellation of the engagement. Dialogue is often tangential and adds nothing thematically. At one point, Lola tries to break off a fling using a monologue from The Godfather. It just doesn’t make sense – and we need movies to make sense.
But what is most frustrating to audiences is that Lola herself is so frustrating. Gerwig does play a helpless and distraught urbanite well, and it’s clear that she did “connect to [Lola’s] feeling that she should be somewhere other than where she is.”
Perhaps it’s Gerwig’s strong performance that so alienates audiences from Lola. Lola’s life sucks. It’s nonlinear. It’s arbitrary. It’s unrewarding. We can’t escape. And by the third act, we’re ready to go home, back to the life that, in comparison to Lola Versus, is rather linear, logical and rewarding – and doesn’t suck.