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Monday, June 18, 2012

Lola Versus the critics

Posted By on 06.18.12 at 10:10 AM

Poster for Lola Versus
  • Poster for Lola Versus
Earlier this week, Eric D. Snider of Film.com shared an e-mail he was sent from the producers of the new film Lola Versus on his Twitter feed. The e-mail blames the film's poor box office on male critics' negative reactions. It states:

"We think this has a lot to do with it being a female driven comedy about a single woman, and the older male critics don't like messy unapologetic stories with women at the center. There was a similar backlash against HBO's Girls at first from men, but we don't have the luxury of a full TV season to change their minds."

I reviewed the film for the Reader. I'm not an "older" critic—unless 25 is now considered "older," in which case, God help me—but I am a male critic, and I can say quite confidently that my negative review doesn't have as much to do with my gender as with the fact that it's just a bad movie.

I'm not here to suggest that critics, old or young, don't have their fair share of prejudices when screening and reviewing a film. We all do. Part of the process of criticism is reconciling with those prejudices while trying to objectively judge the film. It's possible that some people who negatively reviewed Lola Versus do, in fact, have an inherent disinclination toward female-driven movies, but any critic worth a damn judged the movie for what it was and not for the gender of its main character.

Here's the thing about Lola Versus: the film's central conflict is Greta Gerwig's inability to find the right guy. In the process of trying to find the right guy, she has sex with her friend and starts dating a weird dude she meets in a fish market. Not the stuff of high drama or even light comedy, but it's not exactly what makes the film bad. What makes the film bad is the way Gerwig's character enjoys a wardrobe of designer clothing, lives in a Manhattan apartment that looks like it costs thousands, and attends a grad school program that is surely putting her in deep debt, yet doesn't appear to have any money troubles or even a source of legitimate income.

For me, there's nothing more irritating than a film that seeks to get to the heart of a supposed "human emotion" while ignoring the fact that millions of actual human beings—not movie characters—suffer on a massive scale and have actual problems that extend beyond some overprivileged twentysomething's quarter-life crises. The problem with Lola Versus isn't that the central character is a female. The problem is that the central character is unsympathetic. And even if the film's lack of success did have something to do with the character's sex or gender, you can't blame male critics for not engaging with a female-driven movie when it seems every female-driven movie is about how said female can't find a boyfriend.

Which brings me to a key point: the film's artistic and thematic failures aren't the fault of Gerwig, nor are they truly the fault of writer-director Daryl Wein. The moviegoing public dictated the role females have in mainstream movies a long time ago. Either they're accessories to men or constantly on the lookout for men. The inadequate financial returns of Lola Versus are, unfortunately, a sign of the times. If we're to believe the producers, and the film is an unapologetic story with a woman at the center, then they can't blame its lack of attendance on critics. The blame goes to the viewers, who, if box office receipts are to be believed, want the exact opposite of an unapologetic story with a woman at the center.

However, in spite of this lamentable reality, while there may be a female at the center of the film, she's not breaking any barriers in terms of her function as a character in a mainstream romantic comedy. I'd be quicker to commend Lola Versus for going against the grain if it actually did.

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