Judge Gordon Sullivan versus life is an uneven battle.
Lola vs. Sex, Love, Lola, the World.
In the realm of the romantic comedy, especially the romantic comedy, two kinds of relationship are privileged. The first is the heartrending romance of young love. Think of all those indie comedies released in the nineties about young people trying to find romance as new adults. The other kind focus on the other end of the spectrum, either relationships that need to be renewed after a long fallow period, or the difficulties of finding love later in life. Rarely, however, does a romantic comedy challenge that weird period between the early twenties post-adolescence and the full-blown maturity of the thirties (or the difficulties of love in middle age). Lola Versus tackles this underexplored space, bringing a fresh, loose perspective to the indie romantic comedy. Though far from a perfect film, it's hard not to admire much of what Lola Versus accomplishes, especially when it's paired with such an attractive Blu-ray release.
Facts of the Case
In the first few moments of Lola Versus, Lola (Greta Gerwig, The House of the Devil) is turning 29. To celebrate, her cute artist boyfriend pops the question. A montage of the next nine months of wedding planning follows, before Lola returns to their apartment to find him breaking up with her. That's the opening, and what follows this life-shattering moment is 90 minutes of Lola picking up the pieces. There are, of course, other gentlemen waiting in the wings and parents (who own the restaurant at which she works) with advice to give. Lola must find her own worth after being dumped.
The thing I most appreciate about Lola Versus is its willingness to play a bit fast and loose with the rom-com formula. Yes, this film still plays like a romantic comedy, with love and loss and all the other genre trappings. However, it's willing to be something other than a frenetic race to get the man. So many of the romantic comedies I've seen lately feel too tightly wound, like every single beat of comedy is subsumed under the goal of getting to the credits (and the man) as fast as possible. Lola Versus doesn't mind opening up a bit and taking its time. Alternately, it also doesn't feel the need to give us every moment of the rom-com formula. For instance, we don't actually see Lola get dumped; that scene happens in a cut and we move straight to her devastation. That willingness to buck the formula a bit wins Lola Versus a number of points in my book.
The other thing to appreciate about Lola Versus is the cast. Greta Gerwig is a multi-talented artist, having written, directed, and starred in films, which gives her a bit of credibility for an indie romantic comedy. She brings the same easy screen presence to Lola Versus that she displayed in smaller roles in films as diverse as The House of the Devil and No Strings Attached. Her Lola is both vulnerable and confident, mixed up but persevering. She anchors a similarly talented cast. Her parents are played by Bill Pullman and Debra Winger. Though neither of them needs the cred of appearing in an indie romantic comedy, they take to the slightly hippy roles with a gusto that's enjoyable to watch. The rest of the cast are similarly abled, and they elevate even the more suspect parts of the script.
Despite its low profile (at its widest, it played in fifty-two theaters), Lola Versus (Blu-ray) earns the deluxe treatment. Shot on digital with a 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer, Lola Versus looks pretty darn amazing on this disc. Detail is strong throughout, and colors are perfectly saturated with no bleeding. Black levels are deep and consistent, and no significant digital problems show up to mar the image. The DTS-HD 5.1 track only suffers by comparison. The flick relies on dialogue, which comes through with perfect fidelity out of the center channel. It's well-balanced with the music, and the occasional bit of ambient sound creeps in from the surrounds, reinforcing the big-city atmosphere of the film.
Extras kick off with a multitalented pair offering a commentary. Director/co-writer Daryl Wein and co-writer/actress Zoe Lister-Jones talk up the film's origins and production stories, and their intent behind the film's different take on the rom-com genre. A quartet of featurettes follow. Two focus on Greta Gerwig, another concentrates on the filmmakers, and a final one takes on the film's premiere. Those who couldn't get enough of the film will enjoy the collection of deleted scenes (including an alternate ending) as well as the better-than-average outtakes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Lola Versus will rub a lot of people the wrong way. Its borderline myopic focus on a woman with a near-perfect life will not appeal to realists. I can see the argument that it's a bit self-indulgent to make a flick about a 29-year-old white woman living in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City whose only real commitment is working in her parents' restaurant. Those not willing to look past Lola's privilege will have a hard time with this flick. Similarly, those looking for a perfectly standard rom-com flick will be disappointed by some of the detours that Lola Versus takes on the way to Lola's self-actualization. On the other hand, some will claim that the film cleaves a little too closely to those stale generic formulas and doesn't quite break out enough to be worthwhile. The film's final third especially seems to suffer from this problem. I will absolutely concede that Lola Versus is a good romantic comedy that disappoints because it feels like all the ingredients were there to make a great romantic comedy.
Lola Versus feels like the kind of film that gets made to work through some things. The fact that a lot of the people involved wear multiple hats indicates that this is a kind of passion project. Judged on those merits, Lola Versus is an interesting entry into the larger world of independent romantic comedies (especially those set in the Big Apple). Those not willing to indulge a film that has its own agenda for the romantic comedy will be disappointed, but with a Blu-ray this packed, it's hard not to recommend at least a rental to anyone interested in romantic comedies.
Though it doesn't quite break out, Lola Versus is not guilty.
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