Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lola Versus [2012]

MPAA (R)  Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Roger Ebert's review

Lola Versus (directed and co-written by Daryl Wein along with Zoe Lister Jones who also costars in the film) is an _excellent_ young-adult oriented "indie" film set in Manhattan.  Lola (played masterfully by Greta Gerwig) is 29.  Both she and her boyfriend Luke (played by Joel Kinnaman) with whom she is living with  already for some time are grad students.  She's working toward her Doctorate in Literature, he's getting a Masters in Fine Arts.  Two scenes into the movie, after having had sex back home at the apartment one night (yes parents, this film is really _not_ intended for youngsters...) Luke gets out a ring and proposes.  She happily accepts.

The next several months, Lola along with her best friend Alice (played by Zoe Lister Jones) and Lola's mother (played by Debra Winger) sets about planning the wedding.  Yes, this a contemporary story, so Luke is certainly involved in sending invites helping to decide on caterers, etc.  But it's still, above all, Lola, her best friend and mom doing most of the running.  Well three weeks before the wedding, Lola comes home one afternoon and sees Luke sitting slumped stone-faced in a chair.  She asks, "Luke, is there something wrong?  You look like you just had a stroke."  Luke's had no stroke.  He's breaking-up.  BOOM.

The next scene, some days later while Lola lies still half comatose (from shock) on a couch, has Lola's ma' along with her dad (played by Bill Pullman) at ma's side arguing over the phone with Luke's mother (who we never see), telling her: "Listen, this was supposed to be a destination wedding.  There's no way that she or my husband and I are going to refund the invited guests' plane tickets when it was your son who chose to ruin my daughter's life 3 weeks before what was supposed to be their wedding..."

And of course it's not just the immediate scrambling and embarrassment of informing the various guests caterers, services, etc that the wedding is off.  There's much more going on than just that.  Lola and Luke had been together for a long time.  There are relationships with mutual friends that have to be renegotiated Alice (okay, she'd almost certainly fall into Lola's camp) and another fairly important friend Henry (played by Hamish Linklater) who both Lola and Luke knew like "forever."

Then, of course, there are Lola and Luke's studies.  While there's _some_ flexibility in terms of pacing as one works for one's Doctorate, it's not a process that can be meandered through indefinitely.  Further studying for a Doctorate is HARD.  And how can one FOCUS when all this relational upheaval is going on?

Finally, after being together _for so long_  is "over" really "over"?  Wow, I really felt awful for Lola, and really for everybody in this story because it was SO WELL PLAYED OUT and SO OBVIOUSLY PAINFUL.

When Lola presents her proposal for her doctorate (again she's working for a PhD in Literature) -- it's to be on the presence of SILENCE in Literature.  She tells her board: "People don't necessarily appreciate the power of commas and pauses in poetry") --  I just wanted to cry.  (Actually, I'd suspect that there would be a lot more on such a topic in the scholarly literature than the film-maker would have realized, BUT what a _utterly perfect_ dissertation topic for someone who's both studying literature and had just gone through an upheaval like this in her life!

Much of course happens...

Lola Versus is the second movie in several months that I've seen Greta Gerwig in (the first being Damsels in Distress [2011]).  And I honestly have been impressed by both her performances.  I also have to say that I was impressed with the direction, writing and editing in this film.  The dialogue was crisp, every scene had a point.  Just wonderful film-making the telling of the story.  So good job Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones and really the rest of the cast.  This will certainly be a film that you all could be proud of.

FINALLY being a Catholic priest, I really can not end this review of this movie without mentioning (the lack there of) something that is obviously very dear to my heart.  That is, I simply have to mention that the film, despite dealing with some FUNDAMENTAL challenges in the lives of young adults does not make ANY reference at all religion or God.  (Okay, Lola was tangentially "interested in astrology" and "took a yoga class," but honestly that was it....)

Here I want to say to young adults that I actually "get" this and really on multiple levels.

For instance, on the most understanding of levels (and something that a lot of religionists would do well to appreciate as well), I do understand very well that the United States is a diverse place and that this diversity becomes more and more evident among the young (The younger the age group in the United States the "less white" and less traditionally "Judeo Christian" it becomes).  Further, this film was written and made in New York certainly the most diverse city in the United States and one of the most diverse in the world.  Finally, the film was about (and largely FOR) a college/grad-school set (audience), which is even more diverse than the general population or that of New York.  (People from all over the world come to study in the United States).

SO it'd really be asking a lot that this film (made by and for this milieu of college/grad-school aged people) have a particularly strong focus on any particular religion.  And I say this _not simply_ because a fair number of the young adult viewers of this would probably be Jewish rather than Catholic/Christian, BUT BECAUSE A FAIR NUMBER OF THE VIEWERS WOULD NOT BE "JUDEO-CHRISTIAN" AT ALL, but rather HINDU (from India), BUDDHIST (from Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan or China) or MUSLIM (from places as diverse as Iran/Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan where, contrary to perhaps popular belief in the United States, most educated Muslims are _not_ exactly "Taliban").  So I "get" even the practical "soft pedaling" of religion in the portrayal of the day-to-day life of young adults today.

I also understand that there would certainly be an aspect of "young adult bravado" playing here.  Young adults in their 20s be they like the characters in this film, this film's makers or young adults in general are famously "unconvinced" that even their parents have all that much "wisdom" to offer (Our parents generally get wiser as we get older ;-) ;-).  I understand this because I was a young adult once too ;-) ;-) and my dad became so much wiser in my 30s and now in my 40s than when I was in my 20s ;-) ;-).  And if we discount our parents in this way when we are young, it should not be surprising that we largely discount our religion (that often stands even behind them) at that time as well.

HOWEVER, be all this as it may, knowing a thing or two about suffering as well (we all do in some way when we are young) and fully admitting that _some people_ can get through all life's difficulties "by their own bootstraps" or simply "with Friends" without ever needing God or religion, I DO HONESTLY BELIEVE THAT IT IS SO MUCH EASIER to get through those difficult parts of life believing that God is somehow at our sides.  This is NOT to have God "casting flaming boulders" on the "Lukes" or otherwise "problematic people" in our lives, but to simply feel Someone (God) knows our pain and that SOMEHOW it will all turn out for the best in the end (and frankly, perhaps not even in this life or this world, but at SOME FINAL TIME).

I found Lola's choice for her dissertation topic fascinating -- researching the role of SILENCE, "commas/pauses" in literature -- because almost immediately I saw this as what IN OTHER TIMES was self-evidently called a "search for God:"  Jacob famously "wrestled with God" ALONE IN THE DESERT "one night," when NO ONE ELSE COULD POSSIBLY HEAR HIM (Gen 32:23-33).  Elijah encountered God NOT in "storms or earthquakes" but in a _whisper_ literally "A SILENT SOUND" (1 Kings 19:11-13).  Then in Catholic spirituality, St. John of the Cross wrote an entire book around his poem "Dark Night of the Soul" a phrase that has been so evocative that THE PHRASE (if _not_ necessarily the book) resonates with untold millions to this day.  I've long laughed that the 1970s-80s British Rock group Supertramp's "Logical Song" basically described "A Dark Night of the Soul" as well. 

So honestly WHILE I DON'T WANT TO CHANGE NOT A SINGLE "COMMA" in this wonderful film, I would like to say to the readers of this column about this film that if _you_ find yourselves in situations like Lola in this film, don't be afraid to reach out to God in those times.  It's a _lot_ easier to get through those difficult parts of life with God at our sides.

Indeed, I do believe that for folks like St. Paul, God's presence to us "through it all" (even death) was the most fundamental message of Jesus' Resurrection and therefore the Gospel:  "If God is with us, who can be against us ... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom 8:31, 37-39)

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