With a cast that includes Greta Gerwig, Zoe Lister-Jones, Hamish Linklater, and Debra Winger, you might think that Daryl Wein's romantic comedy Lola Versus is some sort of indie version of Garry Marshall's overstuffed, undercooked ensemble rom-coms. The truth is that Wein's film is the antidote for those bloated behemoths.
Gerwig stars as Lola, a twentysomething Manhattanite, who is dumped by her fiancé Luke (Joel Kinnaman) as the film opens, which sends her into an emotional tailspin that her loving parents, her best friend Alice (Lister-Jones), and her platonic best guy friend Henry (Linklater) can't pull her out of. She soon throws herself at Henry, but still hasn't gotten over Luke, leading to some uncomfortable revelations at various bars and parties where this foursome of friends continue to see each other. She keeps vacillating between these two guys, as well as a few other dating options, while she tries to put her life back in order.
There's a smart, playful vibe in the screenplay written by director Daryl Wein and co-star Zoe Lister-Jones. They aren't afraid to have Lola behave in ways that make us dislike her, and they pepper the script with one-liners -- often delivered by Lister-Jones -- that hit us unexpectedly.
The actors respond well to the material. Gerwig's strength has always been her ability to make her naturalism feel unforced and untheatrical, and while that can make it seem like not much is at stake for the character, here it gives us just the right amount of detachment from Lola. Her problems in this film aren't life and death, they're just about finding a little bit of happiness. Linklater's deadpan comic sensibilities fit perfectly with Gerwig's neurotic ramblings. Lister-Jones' caffeinated monologues give the movie bursts of energy, and Ebon Moss-Bachrach absolutely kills as a profoundly misguided romantic possibility for Lola -- their first night together ranks as one of the all-time funniest bad dates, hitting a comic high point when he reveals his musical tastes at an inopportune moment.
There is a seeming sophistication in Lola Versus that actually underscores how unsophisticated all of the characters are. Sure, they live in the big city and attempt to be worldly beyond their years, but Lola is unable to deal emotionally with all of life's painful truths. This isn't a serious drama -- far from it -- but it is an honest, charming journey into the heart and soul of a modern Gen Y woman. Lola Versus is the kind of indie film that, without doing anything remarkable or new, exposes the emptiness at the center of Hollywood's formulaic romantic comedies.