lola (2002)

director: carl bressai

sabrina grdevich, colm feore, joanna going

A certain lack of originality in a film doesn't have to be a flaw. If you wanted to be generous, you could say that there just aren't enough genres - after all, no one thinks a sci-fi flick is unoriginal because it, almost inevitably, has aliens and spaceships, or westerns because they have gunfights and saloons.

Carl Bessai's Lola might happily fit into a new genre of "change of persona" films, which exists as the adult subset of the "coming of age" storyline. Such films usually begin with an awkward, unformed, or irritating lead character - amazingly, the titular role in Lola manages to be all three. As played by Sabrina Grdevich, Lola is an arrested adolescent, a slow-motion trainwreck still finding herself at thirty, much to the irritation of her impatient and verbally abusive husband (Colm Feore).

The formula dictates that a catalyst arrive on the scene, and in short order Lola pulls a flamboyant but distracted Sandra (Joanne Going) from the path of traffic. Sandra is a "bad girl", a glamorous free spirit - or so it's inferred - living on the edge. After a blowout with her husband, Lola ends up on the town with Sandra, sharing confidences and bonding towards the inevitable, tentative sexual tryst, which is cut short when Sandra is confronted by one of her low-life creditors and beaten to death. Lola is left to pick up more than the pieces of her new friend's life, going so far as to assume her identity and her train ticket out of town, back to the inland B.C. town the dead woman fled fifteen years before.

It's a bit of Antonioni's The Passenger, freshened up with borrowings from Mulholland Drive and a few of the stylistic touches of Memento, and it goes through its paces with an almost comforting predictability; dialogue like "You ask a lot of questions. Are you a cop?" ring through the changes with the effortless routine of a cover of "Louie, Louie".

It's a shame, because the cast, direction and camerawork go about their business with more than mere professionalism. Lola fails, not because of an excess of ambition, but because of a paucity of it, yet another victim of an apparently hopeless institutional flaw of the Canadian film industry: the tendency to treat every director like an auteur, and every script as a fragile creature unable to survive the rigours of a re-write or ten.