"Lola Versus" is a comic case study of a yearlong emotional meltdown for an about-to-turn-30, angsty, artsy New Yorker. While that might not sound entertaining, it is made so by star Greta Gerwig, who inhabits Lola with an endearing ease.
The about-to-turn-30, angsty, artsy New York couple behind the film — Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones — have essentially thrown a pity party for Lola. (The duo wrote the screenplay, then Wein directed and Lister-Jones plays Lola's friend Alice.) Massive tears are shed, too much alcohol is consumed, there's a bit of random sex, a bit of desperate random sex and Lola spends enough time lying on the floor moaning to qualify as a narcissistic mess.
That's what passes for a plot, yet it is almost enough because Gerwig is that distinctive and interesting an actress to watch, especially when the story includes a lot of raw truth-telling. She is always game for baring her soul, even when it's not pretty — something there were glimpses of in her turn as a Hollywood assistant type-occasional lover in 2010's "Greenberg" opposite Ben Stiller. Here that soul-baring, soul-searching is the centerpiece of the film. Unfortunately, not much else about "Lola Versus" matches that standard.
Lola's story begins on a very short-lived high. It's three weeks before her wedding to Luke (Joel Kinnaman), an up-and-coming visual artist who is sexy, sweet and getting a serious case of cold feet. Kinnaman, known for his role as a tough, cynical cop on TV's "The Killing," sheds all that to go soft in playing Luke. Even so, Luke breaks it off completely, and since they are living in his cool loft, she's the one who finds herself out on the street. Not literally, of course — there is her parents' place to crash, then a tiny apartment.
She may have lost her fiance, but Lola is not alone. As good as Gerwig is, she is always better when she's surrounded by other characters because there is something tangibly fresh about the way she plays off other actors.
The support system here starts with Debra Winger and Bill Pullman. They play her parents as world-weary, wise and not too worried — they figure Lola will in time figure her life out. Hamish Linklater is Henry, a close friend of both Lola's and Luke's and someone she might be attracted to post-breakup. Linklater seems to be turning up everywhere these days, usually charming someone, as he does in this season of "The Big C." Whether it's that head of dark curls or the face built around doe eyes that gives the actor such an appealing naivete, it works well for Henry's ride on this emotional roller coaster and makes him almost as interesting to watch as Gerwig.
Then there is Lister-Jones, doing her thing as Alice. It's a kind of dry, deadpan, self-deprecating rap that we saw when she played another BFF in the TV comedy "Whitney." But it was better showcased in "Breaking Upwards," the film she and Wein co-wrote and co-starred in about their own carefully orchestrated breakup (they are back to being a couple again).
What was underrealized in that earlier relationship comedy comes together better, if not fully, in "Lola Versus." One of the strengths the filmmakers have is in dialogue that is smartly sharp without seeming too precious or too caustic. One of the weaknesses is a shaky structure underneath. What helps is that Wein brings a strong visual sensitivity to the patter, the pain and the silences. His choice to shoot on film rather than going digital, with Jakob Ihre ("Oslo, August 31st") handling the cinematography, creates a movie that, like Gerwig, is lovely to look at — which is almost, almost enough.
'Lola Versus' -- 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for language, sexuality and drug use)
Running time: 1:26
Opens: FridayCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun