Greta Gerwig got her start in microbudget indies—not just the so-called “mumblecore” films of Joe Swanberg and the Duplass Brothers, but also uncompromising bugfucks like Yeast. You don’t have to know this to actively dislike Lola Versus, which tries, with thankfully little success, to compartmentalize her pretty looks and stonery drawl into the confines of a thumb-twiddling faux-indie rom-com. Gerwig has done a commendable job of sliding into more prominent roles: modifying her gawky schtick for the slicker pastures of Greenberg, and doing weird and wonderful things to Whit Stillman’s prim dialogue in Damsels in Distress. Classify Lola Versus, then, alongside such understandable paychecks as No Strings Attached—in which she shared breathing space with Ashton Kutcher—and the Liza Minnelli role in last year’s Arthur rehash.
Gerwig plays the cutely named title character, a Lower Manhattan grad student whose studly, mumbly-mouthed painter boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman) abruptly proposes to her, only to even more abruptly renege on the deal. Freaked by her forthcoming 30s, Lola spends Versus cast forth into the abyss. She vacillates between ignoring and pining for her guilty jilter, and falling into the arms of quirky male friend Henry (Hamish Linklater) and, briefly, Nick (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a bundle of creepy eccentricities who’s into ethical fish purchases, talking about his enormous dong and singing Ani Difranco during what gets a touch too close to a rape.
Lola’s character is, as one may already surmise, pretty weak, certainly weaker than most rom-com heroes. One scene finds her so insecure she meekly, and unsuccessfully, asks a man with his penis already inside her to throw on a condom. Gerwig stays her usual self, which is fine for fans of her work, less fine for the character, as her terminally dazed mien only exacerbates her character’s shortcomings. There’s an honest, revealing character study buried deep in Versus, one where our protagonist bumbles about through life’s many disappointments. But it’s barely visible underneath banalities, cliches and rampant dumb jokes, many of them lodged by Lola’s requisite catty bestie played by Zoe Lister-Jones, who, wouldn’t you know, is also the film’s co-writer. That Versus also completely wastes a rare appearance from Debra Winger, as Lola’s mostly errant mom, is a complaint barely worth lodging.