I admire Greta Gerwig as an actress. Really, I do. In fact, one might even say that I'm a bit smitten by her unconventional, quirky charm -- which is why I'm all the more disappointed by 'Lola Versus.' Featuring Gerwig's most prominent leading lady role thus far, the flick is unfortunately lackluster all across the board. The filmmakers supposedly attempt to break away from romantic comedy conventions, but the results are still clichéd, formulaic, disjointed, and quite pedestrian. There are some bright spots here and there, but by and large, even Gerwig's trademark unassuming allure can't save this one.
After her longtime boyfriend, Luke (Joel Kinnaman), finally proposes, things are looking good for Lola (Greta Gerwig). That is, until he suddenly decides to break off the engagement, sending her into a downward spiral full of depression and comical, self-destructive behavior. As she attempts to "find" herself, Lola embarks on a series of ill-conceived romantic interludes and struggles to maintain her waning friendships. It's Lola versus… well, I'm not really sure what, but in the end she'll have to either rise up victorious or throw in the towel.
In the included commentary and special features, the filmmakers discuss their attempts to "reinvent" and subvert the romantic comedy genre. While the story isn't exactly a typical rom-com, these claims of innovation are still quite perplexing. The tale of a woman recovering from a breakup while she goes on a voyage of self-discovery is hardly breaking any new ground, and the narrative adheres to many tried-and-true beats and archetypes. There's the quirky best friend with a crass sense of humor (she likes to talk about washing her vagina), the good-guy rebound who's pined over Lola for years, and of course the jerk ex-fiancé who maybe isn't as bad as he first seems.
Again, in the commentary the filmmakers claim that these standard archetypes are all used merely as jumping off points to shake-up the genre, but from where I'm sitting, I fail to see how that's the case. If you're going to use a cliché as a jumping off point, you have to, you know, actually jump off to something else. Yes, there are some "indie" detours from the traditional rom-com path, but most of these so called subversions are actually old-hat, having already become conventions of the genre years ago.
If used right, clichés don't have to necessarily be a bad thing, but unfortunately the execution here is really subpar. The tone is all over the place (and not in a good way) and most of the heavily recycled jokes fall flat (a woman getting a bad spray tan is supposed to be funny). Conversations between characters aren't very interesting, and the film's dramatic beats are filled with truly eye-rolling insights.
The funniest part of the movie involves a bizarre date between Lola and an especially creepy man (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who is very passionate about fresh fish, and really likes Lola's knees. The character's oddball, douchebag persona is actually very amusing, but his scenes (and their style of humor) don't fit with the rest of the movie at all. Likewise, there are certain stylistic techniques that clash with the rest of the picture, including very brief interludes into Lola's daydreams. There is a certain inexperienced quality to the directing that shows a lack of cohesion, and the plot just sort of meanders.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm usually a fan of Greta Gerwig's acting style (I thought she was lovely in 'Greenberg'), but here, well… not so much. As written, Lola is just not very likeable. I understand that the whole point of the movie involves her working through her depression, personal issues, and flaws while she learns to love other people (or something), but the character's behavior is just annoying. Really annoying. Hell, that sentiment extends to the entire ensemble.
Sure, some scenes are faintly amusing, and Gerwig still manages to shine in isolated instances, but most of the time Lola and her friends are simply irritating. In one of the included featurettes, the film's producer reveals that Gerwig was cast because she's someone the audience would want to spend ninety minutes with. Ordinarily, I'd agree, but with this script to work with, that's just not the case. You see, my real issue with the main character isn't that she's merely annoying (under the right circumstances, unlikeable characters can still be engaging and interesting), it's that she's annoying and poorly written.
'Lola Versus' ultimately loses its battle against… well, whatever the hell it was fighting (perhaps mediocrity). Despite the filmmakers' perplexing claims to the contrary, this is a totally formulaic and unoriginal romantic comedy. The characters are unappealing, the humor is recycled, the writing is clichéd, and the direction is disjointed. Even ignoring all of these glaring flaws, the filmmakers commit one truly cardinal sin -- they somehow make Greta Gerwig annoying. A combination of all the worst, overused "indie" and rom-com conventions, the film is a forgettable and disposable watch. Here's hoping Gerwig's next project is more worthwhile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'Lola Versus' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc packaged in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Though a little uneven, this is a solid transfer.
The source is pristine with grain visible throughout. With that said, the grain does waver in consistency a bit, sometimes looking light and unobtrusive, and other times looking heavier or just a tad smeary. Detail is good, offering a very pleasing sense of clarity with nice dimension (the opening shot with Lola on a beach is the most impressive). Unfortunately, the presentation is inconsistent with some scenes looking bright and vibrant and others looking a bit dull and soft. Likewise, scenes set at night or in low light conditions often feature elevated black levels that offer murky shadow detail. Still, most of the film looks pretty good, with a natural yet colorful palette.
'Lola Versus' wavers in quality a bit, but looks very solid overall with a predominantly sharp image. Free of any major technical anomalies, this is a respectful transfer.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track and French DTS 5.1 track are also included. Front-heavy and uneventful, this mix is perfectly suitable but does little to open up the atmosphere of the film.
Dialogue is the main emphasis here, and thankfully speech does come through well. Outside of dialogue, the soundfield is quite tiny, however, with very little sense of ambiance. A few background effects do get spread across the room, and while they are present, directionality and surround activity are pretty anemic. The film's annoyingly upbeat musical score features nice separation and fidelity, but bass activity is fairly weak. Even a scene set in a booming club offers a comparatively small low end. Don't get me wrong, the modest sound design fits the content just fine, but it lacks much in the way of immersion.
With its small soundstage, the mix is decent but unimpressive. While a bit more creativity in the design work could have added some welcome energy to the presentation, the track is still very technically proficient.
Fox has provided a decent but fluffy set of supplements, including a commentary and some featurettes. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound (unless noted otherwise).
'Lola Versus' is an unoriginal and meandering rom-com that features irritating, clichéd characters and recycled humor. Greta Gerwig's performance offers a few bright spots, but by and large the film just falls flat. The video transfer is solid, and while very basic, the audio gets the job done just fine. The supplements are mostly promotional fluff, and the commentary only serves to make me enjoy the film even less. While I really wanted to like this one, the more I think about it, the more it irritates me. Skip it.