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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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Greta Gerwig stars in "Lola Versus," in theaters now.
Greta Gerwig stars in "Lola Versus," in theaters now.

Greta Gerwig comes out a winner in "Lola Versus"

It's Greta Gerwig's time.

After about five years of piddling around micro-budget mumblecore films and a few minor appearances in forgettable in Hollywood romantic comedies (anyone out there remember "Arthur?"), the indie darling finally gets her chance to seize the spotlight in "Lola Versus." She owns it, and the movie greatly succeeds as a result.

Gerwig plays Lola, a late-20s grad student about to get married to Luke ("The Killing"'s Joel Kinnaman). However, with only a few weeks until their marriage, Luke breaks up with Lola, causing her life to spiral out of control. Her friends (Hamish Linklater and co-writer Zoe Lister Jones) and parents (Debra Winger and a rare Bill Pullman appearance) attempt to help Lola realign her life, but a series of flings makes matters more chaotic.

The movie's plot sounds eerily reminiscent of several other indie comedies, and many of "Lola Versus'" elements will have indie-weary audiences seeing déjà vu. Lister Jones' Alice is the typical wild and crazy single best friend who gives advice and quirky support, and Lola's hip lifestyle, featuring chic jobs (her boyfriend has the indie-approved occupation of painter) and various trendy health foods, feels more cliché than genuine.

Luckily, those are the only things in the movie that ring false. Director and co-writer Daryl Wein calmly handles the complex emotions on display in the story, a surprising feat for a director taking on his first big production (his only previous effort was a barely seen 2010 indie "Breaking Upwards," also co-written and starring Lister Jones). It's not a particularly flashy job, unlike "500 Days of Summer," the indie hit proudly touted on "Lola Versus'" poster, but Wein's little touches, such as swift cuts into Lola's mental images, go a long way.

The film is not about the style and direction; it's about its star and her hopefully star-making turn. Since her mainstream debut as Ben Stiller's girlfriend in Noah Baumbach's "Greenberg," Gerwig has shown herself to be a brave and compelling on-screen presence.

Unlike many indie darlings, Gerwig is completely unafraid to devote herself to the portrayal an unlikeable character. As Lola, she spends much of the film ruining her own life while trying to recover from her heartbreak. She has misguided flings, isolates herself from her friends and mindlessly tosses blame around.

She's phenomenally flawed, yet the actress fully commits to the character's chaotic and often self-imposed breakdown. As a result, her mistakes and confusion feel real instead of like screenplay contrivances, and the audience surprisingly finds itself understanding and feeling for her. It's helpful that, unlike some of her previous indies, such as last year's Milwaukee Film Festival entry, "The Dish and the Spoon," the script doesn't pile on faux quirky moments that have become an unfortunate staple of the indie genre.

Gerwig is just as capable with the comedy as with the drama. She has a fun, laid-back sense of comedic timing that works well with her co-stars and the film's snappy script. The actress also has fun with the wordless comedic moments. One of "Lola Versus'" bigger laughs comes from her silent reaction to one of Lister Jones' more unpleasant comments.

Silence is a reoccurring theme in "Lola Versus." Even with all of the man trouble, Lola's biggest quest is to find quiet peace for herself (and for her college thesis on the use of silence and empty space in poetry). It's ironic since, if the film finds the audience it deserves, its lead actress will be making a lot more noise in Hollywood.

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