In the modest rom-com Lola Versus, Greta Gerwig's title character belongs to a small circle of friends who all pursue fairly ridiculous creative pastimes in New York. Lola's handsome fiancé, Luke ("The Killing's" Joel Kinnaman), makes paintings based on celebrity sex tapes. Her wisecracking best friend, Alice (Zoe Lister Jones), struggles as an aspiring actress whom we see in an incomprehensible Russian play called Pogrom! Lola writes her Ph.D. dissertation on the use of silence in 19th century French literature.
Lola tells her advisory board that her studies would explore contemporary culture's fear of silence in favor of constant stimulation, and Lola Versus cracks a good joke when her professors respond with an awkward, wordless pause. If silence suffers from a fear of silence, though, Lola Versus turns out to be more of a symptom than a diagnosis. Writer/director Daryl Wein and co-scripter Lister Jones load the film with wall-to-wall indie rock, forced one-liners, and familiar New York situations rather than find fresh insights.
Lola's panic at turning 29 years old abates when Luke proposes marriage. After a whirlwind of preparations, a panicked Luke breaks up with Lola, throwing her into a spiral of depression and uncertainty. Should she try to stay friends with Luke in case he changes his mind? Should she jump back into the dating pool, despite the uninspiring caliber of potential suitors like super-sensitive Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach)? Or should she turn to Luke's best friend, Henry (Hamish Linklater), a laid-back musician whom Lola and Alice both keep in reserve as a potential boyfriend in case they can find no one else?
Gerwig initially found film industry esteem in such naturalistic, "mumblecore" movies as Hannah Takes the Stairs before taking higher-profile roles in No Strings Attached and the Arthur remake. At her best, even when playing tense, confused characters, Gerwig gives relaxed performances, as if confident the viewer will find her compelling. She's quite appealing in Lola Versus but proves a little more prone to pouting, scrunching up her face and other forms of Meg Ryan-style mugging.
Lister Jones tries too hard, both in writing and acting, to make Alice a deadpan quip machine like the second coming of Janeane Garofalo. In lines like "Find your spirit animal and ride it till its dick falls off," she goes for laughs with shock rather than wit. Linklater makes an impression with his gangly, downcast screen presence, but the film gives him few funny things to do. Debra Winger and Bill Pullman pop in and out of the film to provide forgettable nuggets of advice as Lola's parents.
Lola Versus suffers in comparison to Tiny Furniture, the 2010 screen debut of Lena Dunham, creator of HBO's "Girls." Dunham took a similar story of a glum young woman disappointed with her options for romance and career, but presented it with a distinctive, quirky point of view. Lola Versus has all the self-absorption but none of the individuality, as if striving to achieve glossy Hollywood blandness. The title Lola Versus implies a tension that the film doesn't really deliver. Perhaps it should have been called Greta Versus the Filmmakers.
I can see Rushdie's stuff adapting well. Lots of plot to play with.