Greta Gerwig is fighting for love, struggling for happiness, striving for harmony in "Lola Versus." What she's really up against, though, are the contrivances piled on by the filmmakers of this aggravating indie romance.
"Lola Versus" deals with relationships in standard-issue Sundance style, ostensibly smarter and more genuine than what flows from the Hollywood rom-com pipeline yet really just as shallow at heart.
Writer-director Daryl Wein and co-writer and co-star Zoe Lister-Jones, a real-life couple themselves, manage some clever episodes in their year in the life of a New York woman newly dumped. While Gerwig is an earnest, often adorable mess as Lola, the people around her are just urban types: the supportive, sharp-tongued friend (Lister-Jones); the hunky fiance (Joel Kinnaman) who needs distance; the sensitive male best pal (Hamish Linklater) who's clearly in love with Lola.
Wein and Lister-Jones weave this bunch into a romantic mush of self-absorption, a round robin in which everyone sleeps around with one another then whines over the complications that arise.
Gerwig, who was terrific opposite Ben Stiller in "Greenberg" and managed to be fresh and funny in last year's dreary "Arthur" remake, takes on "Lola Versus" with the same spirit and intensity. She's a great actress in the making, full of quirks and pauses and twitches that bring far more depth and authenticity to Lola than the things the filmmakers have her say and do.
We meet Lola as she's turning 29, when her life is progressing in just the way the smart, conventional New Yorker hopes. Working toward a doctorate degree and a safe life in academia, Lola lives with longtime boyfriend Luke (Kinnaman), who pops the question and enthusiastically goes along with wedding plans until three weeks before the big day, when he abruptly breaks it off.
"Lola Versus" then treads lightly in action, languidly in spirit, through randy hookups involving Lola, Luke and their buddies Alice (Lister-Jones) and Henry (Linklater).
Lola's friends are all so measured, so affected. The quips and rejoinders Lister-Jones and Wein write for them are too whip-smart for their own good, the filmmakers laboring for hip and loose but delivering something feigned and calculated.
Debra Winger and Bill Pullman have a few engaging moments as Lola's hippie-dippy parents, dispensing laidback advice to their obsessive little girl.
A few minor characters are tossed in to break up the tedium of this inbred circle. There's Lola's bizarre night with a prison architect (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) she meets in a seafood store.
Think about it. A prison architect she meets in a seafood store, who has — small spoilers here — an extra-large penis and coos along to an Ani DiFranco song during sex. Could happen. Maybe it has among the endless romantic permutations possible in a world of 7 billion people.
But it's the sort of encounter that's really reserved for movies such as "Lola Versus" that strain to entertain and pretend to edify but that really just wear their pretensions on their sleeves.
To her credit, Gerwig really goes for it, her Lola a seething nutcase who tries to draw everyone into her crumpled, myopic world of self-pity. That friends continue to indulge her — or even speak to her — after some of her shenanigans stretches credibility.
At some point, a good slap in the face is the best medicine for a loved one caught up in her own little train wreck of a love life. That's what Lola needs and deserves. And it's what much of the audience will be hoping for — Lola versus palm to the cheek.
"Lola Versus," a Fox Searchlight release, is rated R for language, sexuality and drug use. Running time: 86 minutes.