Girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy, girl moves in with boy, boy proposes to girl, girl and boy plan wedding, boy dumps girl, girl attempts to find self. This isn’t your typical romantic comedy, where everything works out perfectly. This is Lola Versus.
Helmed by director-writer Daryl Wein and his writing partner/significant other Zoe Lister-Jones, the New York-based Lola Versus positions itself as the raw and realistic antidote to the multitudes of shiny romantic-comedies that invade theaters.
That girl, Lola (Greta Gerwig), and that boy, Luke (Joel Kinnaman), are seemingly happy and engaged when, out of nowhere, he breaks up with her. Thus begins her journey to get over this life-altering change, with the help of her single friend, Alice (Lister-Jones), adorable pal Henry (Hamish Linklater), and her free-spirited parents, Robin (Debra Winer) and Lenny (Bill Pullman). I spoke last week with the filmmakers and the movie's star, to get their thoughts on what's behind this intriguing flick.
Wein and Lister-Jones based their script on the latter’s experience as a single woman during the couple’s open relationship, which was the focus of their first feature film, 2009’s Breaking Upwards. Lola Versus focuses on the real stages of getting over a break-up, where the ex-fiancé isn’t the bad guy, the female lead isn’t the epitome of perfection, and, in the end, everything doesn’t work out for the better. This isn’t some perfectly packaged Hollywood romantic comedy, a term the duo resists.
“It’s rare to see funny, authentic portraits of single women post-breakup that aren’t Sex and the City, Bridget Jones’ Diary, or any movie with Julia Roberts or Katherine Heigl in it,” says Wein (below). “To have a post-break-up single woman story [where] the women are unapologetic, speaking authentically and making mistakes, too. “
“The dating scene for single women in their twenties was bleak,” Lister-Jones says. “We felt like it was a ripe story that we could mine a lot of humor, but also raw emotion.”
Which brings us to Lola. She isn’t your usual film heroine; she is selfish, muddled, unlikable, and confused about what she wants. This is what makes her authentic, and this is what makes her relatable.
Gerwig described her character as a mess, but not in a cute way. “It was hard to be on her side,” Gerwig says. “She had to really screw up these relationships and make mistakes because then she has to earn something back. It didn’t just feel like I was a placeholder in a movie for what people thought girls were.”
Wein says, “We’re trying to challenge the typical and conventional expectation of what a female protagonist tends to be by not only casting Greta, but the way we wrote her trajectory. She is ping ponging back and forth in this way that [isn’t] going from point A to point B.” Fun fact: According to Lister-Jones, the couple originally wanted Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play their alter-egos in Breaking Upwards, pre-500 Days of Summer.
As for playing Lola, Gerwig approached the role as she would any other part. She says, “My goal as an actor is to make it all as real and as honest and as truthful as possible and I let other people worry about whether or not she’s likable and pretty.”
Lola abides by her plan (dating, engagement, marriage), and when that plan is ruined, her world and her self is thrown into chaos. She feels as though the world is against her, and she against everything else.
Instead of focusing on what didn’t work about Lola and Luke’s relationship, the film centers on everything that happens after the break-up, a scene specifically not shown in the movie. “It was more important for us to get into the story of this woman spiraling after the break-up,” says Wein, “than it was for us to focus on why they were breaking up.” That was where the untold story lay.
“[Lola] just made her whole world this guy and didn’t really expand beyond the two people that they knew,” says Gerwig, “You become a two-person world, and she just stopped trying. Once you take away the half of yourself that you were sure about, what do you do?”
Ultimately, say the filmmakers, it’s about being comfortable with who you are, despite whatever grand ideas you once had in mind for your life. “It’s not about this desperate need to find that perfect person right away and have that plan so well mapped out,” Wein says. “You can take that time to figure out who you are, what you want, and get to a comfortable, content, happy place before you’re ingratiating someone else in your mess.”
While Lola is dealing with the unfamiliar chaos around her, she is also finishing her dissertation on the appropriately chosen theme of silence. When asked about that particular subject, Lister-Jones says, “I think women’s heads can get pretty figuratively noisy. There’s so much about self-image, relationships, and a lot of self-analysis and self-loathing. Her journey is ultimately to find a sense of peace, and she is her own worst enemy in that journey.” Lola tries everything she could—from yoga, awkward dancing in clubs, getting drunk, to sleeping with random men both familiar and unfamiliar, but nothing really sticks. It’s only when she can let herself really go that it actually works.
“You’re always rooting for the girl to get back with the guy,” Wein says. “For us, it was more important to root for her to figure out herself.” This isn’t Luke Versus for a reason. It is Lola versus everything, but more specifically, it’s Lola versus Lola, and only she can win.
Lola Versus is out in theaters on June 8, and you can check out the trailer below: