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'Lola Versus' Filmmakers Blame 'Older Male Critics' For Movie's Box Office Struggles

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by Matt Singer
June 11, 2012 11:33 AM
24 Comments
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"Lola Versus."
"Lola Versus."

NOTE: Some of the math in the original version of this article was incorrect.  ALSO NOTE: I am terrible at math.

Its tagline reads: "Lola Versus Sex, Love, Lola Versus the World." To which we can now add one more opponent:

Lola Versus Film Critics.

Over the weekend, the creators of "Lola Versus" sent out an email to their mailing list, later posted on Twitter by Film.com's Eric D. Snider, blaming the film's poor box office performance (an estimated $34,000 at four theaters) on the negativity of male critics. The email is signed by "The Breaking Upwards Team" -- which I assume is the film's director/co-writer Daryl Wein and actor/co-writer Zoe Lister Jones. Here's an excerpt from the full text:

"Our new movie with Fox Searchlight, 'Lola Versus,' just opened in theaters in NY and LA. The male critics are attacking the film and our box office really struggled last night. 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."

The filmmakers allege that male critics -- and specifically older male critics -- don't like the film because they don't like any films that involve "messy unapologetic stories with women." It's almost a complete inversion of the discussion around "The Hunger Games" and female critics, when blogger Jeffrey Wells informed his readers to "be wary" of positive reviews written by women because he believed they were "more susceptible to the lore" of the franchise. In that case, math proved Wells incorrect: a nearly identical percentage of critics from both genders liked "The Hunger Games." So what about "Lola Versus?" Have male critics been giving it an especially hard time?

At Rotten Tomatoes, "Lola Versus" currently holds a 43% approval rating, with 13 positive reviews against 17 negative reviews. 5 of the positive reviews are by women, 7 are by men, and 1 is by a couple writing together; meanwhile, 3 of the negative reviews are written by women, and 14 are by men. If we look within each gender, we see 63% of female critics liked "Lola Versus," compared with just 50% 33% of male critics. That seems like a small but notable gender disparity. But let's look closer.

One of the reviews written by a woman, Betsy Sharkey of The Los Angeles Times, is listed on Rotten Tomatoes as positive, but it reads, at least to my eye, as mixed-to-negative (Last line: "[Wein] creates a movie that, like Gerwig, is lovely to look at -- which is almost, almost enough.")  Metacritic agrees with me, and ranks that review as a 50, alongside a piece by Time's Mary Pols ("A movie that aspires to be deep but never gets out of the shallows") that Rotten Tomatoes lists as negative. If you flip Sharkey's piece from positive to negative, that makes 4 positive reviews and 4 negative reviews from women, which makes 50% approval rating for the women.  That's still slightly higher than the approval rating of male critics, but still, in the parlance of Rotten Tomatoes, a "rotten" average.

The claim that it's older male critics raining on "Lola Versus"' parade is harder to fact-check on short notice -- writers don't typically sign their reviews with their age and birthday -- but at a glance, the Rotten Tomatoes' page includes pans by Indiewire's Eric Kohn and Movies.com's David Ehrlich, two guys I know are younger than me, and I'm only 31. And if I count as an "older male critic" this post is never going to get finished because I have to go sit in the shower and cry for the next three hours.

I haven't seen "Lola Versus." It might be amazing; it might be terrible. Obviously the reviews weren't great -- from both men and women -- but the marketplace it opened into was even worse. The film's per screen average was $8,525 -- a solid figure, but good enough only for sixth best last weekend behind "Moonrise Kingdom," "Dark Horse," "Prometheus," "Madagascar 3," and "Safety Not Guaranteed."  If you ask me, the real problem wasn't critics. It was competition. 

Not only were there a lot of new movies last weekend, most of them -- at least three of the other five films -- were also targeted at "Lola Versus"' audience of young, hip twentysomethings. So is the HBO series "Girls," which the email above cites as an example of male critical bias. But maybe it's just one more example of the glut of similarly themed pop culture fighting for one small niche's attention.

True, the other films ahead of "Lola Versus" on the box office chart got better reviews. But they also featured bigger stars like Bill Murray and Bruce Willis and established indie directors like Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz. Critics didn't help "Lola Versus." Realistically, though, in this sort of competitive environment, the reviews could have been scented with pheromones designed to subconsciously spur potential viewers to the theater and Wein and Lister Jones would still have had problems. When that tagline said Lola was going to take on the world, brother it wasn't kidding.

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More: Lola Versus, Daryl Wein, Zoe Lister Jones

24 Comments

  • Tabla de inversion | September 10, 2012 6:50 AMReply

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  • Bill | June 23, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    This from a writing team that sold "Motherf#@%er" as a pitch for millions. A one joke concept that can never be advertised at any theater in the Midwest or South. Which means they'll have to lose the joke and they will only have the "Breaking Upwards" team's crappy writing and a played concept about a guy falling for his future mother-in-law.

    These two are the luckiest stiffs on the planet and they still have an attitude. Try this for a bottom line. No one wants to to see their crappy Brooklyn centric post mumble core crap and that's why no one goes to see any of these movies. even the ones with 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.

  • dorothy nightshade | June 22, 2012 2:30 PMReply

    Funny about the number crunching. I can't do math either but it seems fairly obvious that, well, there is some dickishness lingering about. (I mean: DUH). Here's a funny article -- it does do the math: http://thehairpin.com/2012/06/versus-lola

  • Tabla de inversion | June 18, 2012 5:03 AMReply

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  • alternative troll | June 13, 2012 8:03 AMReply

    oh wuups -- they musta meant "old women" critic. their bad.

  • Kevin | June 12, 2012 6:15 PMReply

    It looks like the filmmakers might actually be right here. I took a closer look, and if you compile all of the legitimate reviews online from media sources on google for "Lola Versus" there appear to be 71 in total as of today. Rotten Tomatoes only accounts for 32. That is less than 1/2 of the overall statistical pool. Of the male critics, only 10 were positive, 3 were mixed, and 30 were negative. Of the female critics, there were 19 positive, 3 mixed, and only 6 negative. That breaks down to 68% positive reviews from women, and only 23% positive reviews from men. Or, depending how you look at it, 70% negative reviews from men and 21% negative reviews from women.

  • Shelly | June 12, 2012 5:59 AMReply

    Wein has been blaming other people for his crappy work for years. He sends responses to his rejection letters.

  • JC | June 11, 2012 9:26 PMReply

    In order for the filmmakers to prove their hypothesis, they would have to show that their target audience (females under 34?) regularly reads the reviews of older male critics and heeds their advice. Did Wein and Lister Jones actually do that in their email?

    I also got a kick out of how they framed their opinion (older male critics don't like messy unapologetic stories with women at the center) as object fact.

  • Neruka | June 11, 2012 8:42 PMReply

    "5 of the positive reviews are by women, 7 are by men, and 1 is by a couple writing together; meanwhile, 3 of the negative reviews are written by women, and 14 are by men. If we look within each gender, we see 63% of female critics liked "Lola Versus," compared with just 50% of male critics."

    I don't care about the movie, but your math looks to be off. 7/21 men liked the movie, according to your numbers. That's a third, not half. Awkward.

  • J_Brisby | June 11, 2012 8:25 PMReply

    This is a perfect example of what I call Bad Feminism. One of the characteristics of the Bad Feminist is a pathological refusal of accountability. They didn't make a bad movie, oh no, it's male critics' fault.

  • Thomasi | June 11, 2012 8:16 PMReply

    And that title. It's a Kinks reference, no?

    I know I could see the movie to find out, but I'm an older (45) white male and apparently, we don't like the movie much. Too bad, because Greta Gerwig is the most gifted actor to come along in about three generations.

  • Melissa Silverstein | June 11, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    I think that a writer/director should be really wary before declaring that sexism is what brought down a film. You need to have the facts to back you up.

    I don't think that the problem with this film has anything to do with sexism which is clearly articulated in this piece. The reviews on this film are not divided along gender lines.

    I also think it's important to note that I haven't seen many people agreeing with Daryl's assessment. It hurts to throw out the word sexism when your film doesn't perform well for other reasons -- namely the film -- because when there really is sexism people might not see it.

  • Kate Erbland | June 11, 2012 2:51 PMReply

    I'm a twentysomething female critic and the movie didn't fly with me either (and it would appear, at least from this note, that the filmmakers were gunning straight for my demo). No dice. http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/reviews/review-lola-versus-kerbl.php

  • CHASE WHALE | June 11, 2012 2:15 PMReply

    I liked the movie just fine. http://www.nextmovie.com/blog/lola-versus-indie-film-review/

  • SoulHonky | June 11, 2012 1:44 PMReply

    The "Girls" backlash comment doesn't make any sense. The backlash came because of the show's insanely positive reviews. That's why it was called a backlash. In this case, there was never anything to lash back at. (And how many people have really changed their mind about Girls? I know most people think the pilot was the worst episode but the people who didn't like it pretty much all still don't like it.)
    As for the box office, were they really expecting this to do boffo business? As the article points out, there's a lot of competition right now and I'm not sure why they ever expected this film to find footing in the busy summer marketplace.

  • Old male (and white to boot) | June 11, 2012 1:38 PMReply

    I guess my opinion doesn't count because of my demographic, but if you want to look for a reason the film underperformed this weekend, how about the fact that it wasn't very good? Critics or no, I have a hard time imagining the film will generate much positive word of mouth.

    Credit to the performances, but the key problem is that each of the 4 leading character was loathsome for one reason or another, cheating and lying with impunity and treating their best friends/lovers with total disregard. Nobody to root for makes it a hard film to get through... if commercial success is your objective.

    I appreciate the author's gallant attempt here to blame the film's underperformance on competition, but that's a canard. This is the type of marketplace any indie film finds itself opening into -- fact is, the Fox Searchlight marketers for LOLA VERSUS don't (and shouldn't) spend a lot of time worrying about competing with MADAGASCAR and PROMETHEUS. Totally different audience. MOONRISE KINGDOM did just fine, thank you, opening against the much larger (and slightly more demo-targeted) AVENGERS, with demo bullseye HUNGER GAMES still in the marketplace as well.

    I can't believe I'm becoming one of those bitter "the film sucks" commenters... I appreciate how difficult it is to make a compelling film and the characters in this one felt genuine. But just because real people are really awful (though still living fairly privileged comfortable lives in NYC) doesn't mean I want to see a movie about them.

  • ska-triumph | June 11, 2012 4:46 PM

    Here here. And heyo, why did SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED do so well? Maybe plainly because it twists the usual rom-com/low-fi/sci-fi paradigm, and was actually a well-told story.

  • Oh Long Johnson | June 11, 2012 12:59 PMReply

    What's the CALL TO ACTION w/ this film? There's no real plot statements in the trailer or even the articles. Ms. Lister Jones had a great Huff Post article, but it really felt like she was trying to explain Breaking Upwards and her relationship w/ her boyfriend than selling us on her latest.

    At least Breaking Upwards, which I enjoyed , had a clear "this-is-why-we-made-this-movie" statement that made me want to watch it in a theater. Getting goosebumpy at the sight of Ms. Gerwhig isn't enough.

    MOONRISE charms the mothereffer out of you. So does SAFETY NOT GURANTEED. It's summer. I want to feel awesome and giddy when I leave a theater. In the husband and wife breakfast conversation of "What film do you feel like seeing, dear?" - Lola Versus just doesn't compete.

    Truthfully, what works w/ this couple is when they put themselves on camera. Even if they made this more of an ensemble film about NY. I'd be more intrigued.

  • Peter Labuza | June 11, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    Aren't most of the people who continue to praise "Girls" week after week older male critics?

  • Patrick | June 11, 2012 11:59 AMReply

    Hmm...sounds like a cheap attempt to get publicity for the movie....but I am a cynical person (being an "older" male that happens). I have to go chase some kids out of my yard now..bye.

  • Noomi Repace | June 11, 2012 11:57 AMReply

    Might I remind Mr Wein that the film that came in #2 at the overall box office this weekend is a female driven action/sci-fi film which reviews have pretty much universally confirmed is a "messy, unapologetic story with a woman at the center." A woman, by the way, who has starred in far fewer English-language films than the prolific Ms. Gerwig. Of course I understand the difference in finances behind the two titles - but playing the misogyny card on critics because your film underperformed is bullshit.

  • jimbo | June 11, 2012 11:53 AMReply

    could it be the film just wasn't that good?

  • Jordan Hoffman | June 11, 2012 11:43 AMReply

    You buried the lede - you sit in the shower?

    But seriously, folks, I took a dump on this movie not because it was a "messy unapologetic stor[y] with women at the center" but because it was vapid and unfunny with unrealistic conflicts and no interesting characters.

    But I was sold on "Girls" about ten minutes into the pilot DESPITE my natural inclination to dislike it because of the whole nepotism controversy. Why? Because "Girls" is clever and well-made and has something to say. Lola Versus, on the other hand, is awful.

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