Lola Versus (15) / The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best (15)
Two dumpees wander round NYC being goofy. If only they were in the same film
Sunday 22 July 2012
In a week with such a dearth of new films for superhero-phobes to choose from, it's ironic that two of the alternatives should be so similar. Lola Versus and The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best have so much in common that, at any moment, the characters from one film might turn a corner and bump into characters from the other.
Both are downbeat but twee indie comedies set in New York; and not just anwhere in New York, but the graffiti-sprayed, hipster neighbourhoods populated by arty twentysomethings in frayed T-shirts and vintage frocks. And the protagonists of both films – if "protagonists" doesn't credit them with too much energy – have both just been dumped. In Lola Versus, it's Greta Gerwig (as the eponymous Lola) who's newly single. Jilted by her fiancé a month before their wedding date, she goes into a tailspin, neglecting her PhD, leaning heavily on her friends Hamish Linklater and Zoe Lister-Jones (who is also the film's co-writer), and stumbling drunkenly into terrible clubs and the beds of terrible men.
In The Brooklyn Brothers ..., it's Ryan O'Nan (also the film's writer-director) who's the dumpee. Not only has his girlfriend left him, but he's been kicked out of an acoustic folk-rock duo for writing too many songs about moths, and sacked from his job as a children's entertainer for punching a child.
Together with Lena Dunham's recent Tiny Furniture, these films paint a vivid picture of a generation of middle-class Americans emerging from higher education without jobs or prospects, but shut out of adult society by their navel-gazing passivity. It's hard to feel too sorry for them, though, when they seem to have well-off families to support them. Gerwig, in particular, might be a more sympathetic heroine if she didn't own a Manhattan apartment, and if her wealthy parents, Bill Pullman and Debra Winger, didn't have a restaurant for her to work in.
In other words, Lola Versus and The Brooklyn Brothers are films in which privileged young people whinge that the world hasn't handed them everything they want. At his lowest ebb, O'Nan is able to stay with his loving older brother, Andrew McCarthy. He's also invited to form a band by Michael Weston, an oddball with a collection of toy keyboards. What's more, Weston has arranged for them to go on a concert tour, where they're soon joined by a sexy club promoter, Arielle Kebbel. Frankly, O'Nan's problems don't seem too bad.
But while Gerwig and her friends in Lola Versus seem unaware of any lives beyond their own, The Brooklyn Brothers ... at least get out and about to parts of the Unites States Hollywood usually ignores. In among the self-conscious wisecracks, it also has flashes of heart-tugging emotion. I was touched by the hope and gratitude in O'Nan's eyes when Weston starts playing along to one of his songs, and by his well-balanced confrontation with the Bible-bashing McCarthy.
The Brooklyn Brothers ... is the funnier film, too. Lola Versus has its amusing lines, but the dialogue is nowhere near as clever as it thinks, and even Gerwig's goofy appeal wears off after you've watched her moping for an hour. If only she'd met O'Nan. They might have lived happily, if neurotically, ever after.
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