As its indie-cool title suggests, and with the casting of unconventional Greta Gerwig, “Lola Versus” is a smallish and welcomely askew comedy about a woman in crisis. But as its protagonist devolves into a frenzied mess in her search for love, the path she stumbles down is unfunny and uninspired.
Writer-director Daryl Wein and writer (and co-star) Zoe Lister-Jones, whose joint credits include “Breaking Upwards,” refreshingly invert the romantic comedy formula in a story that begins with a marriage proposal, continues with a breakup and culminates in something almost nonexistent for romantic heroines: an extolling of unattachment.
Less impressive, though, are the results. Picture a blend of Woody Allen’s Manhattan-set love follies; the Duplass brothers’ low-fi, discomfort-zone comedies; and Eric Rohmer’s tales featuring talky young women struggling with romantic choices, but with less wit, reality and spark.
Gerwig plays Lola, a 29-year-old Manhattan graduate student whose on-track life includes an upcoming wedding to longtime beau Luke (Joel Kinnaman). But then Luke bails and Lola down-spirals.
Lola sulks, drinks and cries on the shoulders of her two best friends: sex-obsessed Alice (Lister-Jones) and sensitive Henry (Hamish Linklater). Rebounding, Lola begins dating Henry, while also reuniting with Luke and sleeping with creepy roller-blader Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
The tangle shakes up everyone and leads to Lola’s meltdown, followed by an awakening.
Wein and Lister-Jones describe the film as a reflection of their own experiences as 20-something New Yorkers with dating dilemmas, and initially, its combination of down-to-earth interactions and offbeat misadventures is agreeable.
Gerwig, in a more self-absorbed version of her “Greenberg” character, is crucial here. Whether wobbling on high heels or uttering vital lines such as “I’m confused and easily persuaded,” she is open and amusingly off-kilter, bringing wide-ranging emotional shades to the picture.
Unfortunately, as Lola tailspins, so does the film, which shapes up as a hit-and-miss proposition of brightness and banality.
Lola, whose actions hurt others, doesn’t inspire viewers to root for her in her quest for fulfillment. Unlike Charlize Theron’s nastier protagonist in Jason Reitman’s sharper “Young Adult,” Gerwig’s Lola gets little chance either to shock with her thoughtlessness or to surprise with moments of humanity. Her bed-hopping and drunkenness, complemented by cleansing procedures and yoga sessions, become tedious.
Supporting characters don’t help. Alice says juicy things, but nobody truly talks like she does. Debra Winger and Bill Pullman as Lola’s parents have nothing to do besides offer unhelpful advice. (“Freeze your eggs,” says Mom, adding, “You’re not getting any younger.”) Winger, a wonderful actress, deserves an apology.