What do Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, Ole Borendal’s Nightwatch and Lisa Azuelos’ LOL have in common? No, it’s not the genre, even though some might consider all three films to be horror. All three movies are foreign-language features that have been remade by their own directors for US audiences. Whereas Haneke chose an artful shot-for-shot approach, the others adapted their original works more freely. Another thing all three films have in common is a cooler reception than for the original films.
That is not to say that French director Azuelos’ first version was a particularly memorable film either. Starring Sophie Marceau and Christa Theret as the troubled mother-daughter duo, it detailed the turbulent life of a modern teenager coupled with personal life issues of her mother. Far from revelatory the original flick provided flimsy and forgettable entertainment dealing with the well-worn themes of teenage angst, emotional growing pains and single parenting. With the plot being universal it was decided that it’d be a good fit for former Disney star Miley Cyrus’ first PG-13 vehicle. The producers were so impressed with Lisa Azuelos’ work on the first film that they decided to hire her for the American adaptation as well.
And here we are now. Two years after the movie has been shot, the Lionsgate release finally reached theatres earlier this month. Quietly and without any promotion, the studio released the film against The Avengers on May 4th in a bit over 100 theatres. After the expected disastrous performance (less than $50,000 was made from those 100 theatres opening weekend), the movie was pulled from screens altogether. While the film is undeniably far from what you would call good, it is still surprising that Lionsgate never even tried to capitalize on Cyrus’ bankability and dumped it. Afterall, as derivative and unsubstantial as LOL is, it is still quite a commercial film.
In LOL, Lola (Miley Cyrus), a 16-year old high-schooler in Chicago whom her friends lovingly call Lol, has to deal with the usual troubles of teenage life. At the start of a new school year, her heart is broken by her boyfriend. Shortly thereafter her best friend Kyle (Douglas Booth) reveals his love for her. Meanwhile her caring, but overstressed mother, played by Demi Moore, doesn’t quite know how to deal with her teenage daughter. The fact that her own love life isn’t exactly carefree doesn’t make matters easier. She’s having a not-so-well hidden affair with her ex-husband (Thomas Jane), while a potential romance with a police detective blossoms on the horizon. All elements of a teenage angst dramedy, including break-ups, confusion, diary-reading, wrongly interpreted situations and first sex ensue.
LOL was supposed to be the film to introduce Miley Cyrus (previously best-known for her part as Hannah Montana) to older audiences. By older the filmmakers must have meant going from the 10-12 year old females range to the 12-15 year old ones because this should be the only demographics to which LOL will hold any appeal. The movie’s attempt to portray the communication gaps between friends and between generations (further stressed by the introduction of Lola’s free-spirited grandmother) in the era of Facebook, Youtube and smartphones never really catches fire. Instead the movie just focuses on the typical day-to-day silliness of privileged teenagers. By widening the scope to Lola’s friends, Azuelos takes away from what could have been an interesting mother-daughter relationship exporation between Lola and Anne. Moore (who still has considerable acting chops) and Cyrus (who gets by thanks to Moore) have decent chemistry together and give off a believable mother-daughter vibe. However, the movie prefers to constantly shift focus to other characters such as Lola’s cute friend Emily (Chronicle’s Ashley Hinshaw) who starts a secret romance with the film’s token nerd (Adam G. Sevani). Then there is Kyle, whose infatuation with Lola puts him in conflict with Chad (George Finn), his best buddy, bandmate and Lola’s cheating ex. On top of that, there is his strict father who is against his son’s career as a musician and in one scene dramatically smashes his guitar (do parents actually do that kind of stuff nowadays?). Not to forget the school bitch Ashley, played by Twilight alum Ashley Greene who is promptly given a sympathetic side at the end of the film (to make her less one-dimensional, right?). Some of the solid supporting cast which includes Thomas Jane, Fisher Stevens and Gina Gershon are completely wasted here without any memorable scenes.
To fulfill the comedy part of the subgenre, Azuelos throws in a couple of gags such as a rather inappropriate use of a refrigerated chicken during a video chat, but these attempts at risqué humor are too half-hearted to work. To tie into the film’s French roots, there is a class trip to Paris which mainly serves to showacase some of Paris’ famous landmarks through a montage of scenes and some over-the-top clichés about the French. Those range from serving sheep brains for dinner, over having no internet at a luxurious mansion to worshipping Joan of Arc. Given the fact that the film’s director is French herself, it is even moreso weird that she went for this kind of over-exaggeration.
Yet the film is not thoroughly unwatchable as the marketing might suggest. It is simply derivative and has nothing that makes it stand out from the flock of dozens of similar coming-of-age films.