What Lola Wants finds it central conflict in its title – what exactly does 16 year old Lola (Sophie Lowe) actually want? She’s faked her own kidnapping to hang out in desert diners and spit out stylised and lyrical dialogue, revelling in a rockabilly fantasy of a road movie, but her actual goals and motives are one of the film’s biggest problems. She insists her parents are monsters – vampires, werewolves – but the only person less convinced by that than the audience is Marlo (Beau Knapp), the thief turned good that Lola ropes into playing the Clyde to her Bonnie. Marlo himself is hardly demon free – he’s being pursued cross-country by the sinister Mama (Dale Dickey), after he relieved her of a million dollars.
Style over substance is the main criticism that could be levelled at Rupert Glasson’s film – it takes place in a strange mishmash of today and a timeless cinematic period, where Lola can saunter her way through the West with a cellphone in her pocket.1 The whole film looks like it was shot on Instagram – not only in its filters but its subjects, its framing and presentation of a nostalgic snapshot of a time passed. One particularly gratuitous sequence early on involves Lola shaving Marlo with a straight razor while surrounded by cactuses and dead grass – both are immaculately dressed and very attractive. That’s not to say it’s ineffective – if they were selling a perfume, I’d buy it – but it can get tiring over the film’s 80 minute run time.
Characters are little more than stock cut-outs, although an appearance by a particularly reasonable police officer (Charles S. Dutton) is refreshing. Lola herself wavers on the knife edge of silver screen ingenue and bratty teenager, and the few times she crosses that line are damaging – the bratty teenager honestly suits Lola better, and once it appears it takes a lot of work to get the audience back on her side. Marlo’s story arc is ultimately far more interesting than that of the titular character, and the filmmakers acknowledge that by spending more time exploring his life. If anything, Lola’s story bookends Marlo’s – sure, she kicks off the action, and will occasionally bully Marlo into her plans, but she ultimately plays a part in his story, before her true motives are revealed in the last few minutes of the film. The reveal of why both Lola and Marlo abandoned their parental influences does give a bit more weight to the film, but ultimately only affirms that Marlo is the more complex and compelling character of the two.
The story itself is straightforward, and although the dialogue can get self-indulgent, it mostly sticks in on the stylistically intriguing side of the fence. The rock and roll soundtrack and visually striking desert do their part in paying homage to a past time, as does the costuming, filling in for weak performances – Lowe and Knapp rely a little too heavily on the fact that they are pretty to look at, trusting that the audience will give them the benefit of the doubt. Dickey’s Mama is easily the most compelling character, but her part is limited to occasionally showing up and shooting at Marlo.
What Lola Wants is not necessarily a bad film – it’s a well-meaning homage to the road movie – it just lacks the strength to make it a good film. At its heart, it fails to really do anything new – Dutton is the only non-white actor, and the romance at the film’s centre is heteronormative to a fault. But, to the film’s credit, it is fun, and stylistically it hits the right notes. The problem is, while we eventually find out what Lola really does want, by that time, it’s hard to know why we care.