Photo By Myles Aronowitz
Zoe Lister-Jones, left, with Greta Gerwig in 'Lola Versus'
NEWSgrist pal, the multi-talented Zoe Lister-Jones, (who plays the character "Lily" on NBC's Whitney, and recently played on Broadway in Teresa Rebeck's Seminar), is profiled in today's Wall Street Journal. Zoe's new movie, Lola Versus, her second project with co-writer/co-conspirator Daryl Wein, and starring indy queen Greta Gerwig, opens in theaters June 8th. Their first independent film, Breaking Upwards, picked up by IFC, was made sans studio for $15,000. Lola Versus is their first studio-backed feature.
By RACHEL DODES
The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2012
In the new romantic comedy "Lola Versus," a 29-year-old woman struggles with dating, stars in a bizarre experimental theater production called "Pogrom," and supports her increasingly self-absorbed best friend during a painful breakup. And she's not even the main character.
The role of the quirky best friend, a rom-com staple that goes back at least as far as Shakespeare, is often a clever narrative device employed by writers to provide exposition and comic relief. But in "Lola Versus," due in theaters June 8, the character of Alice—played by Zoe Lister-Jones—does that and then some: She finds love while the main character, Lola (Greta Gerwig), lights out on a path of self-destruction.
"We wanted to subvert the genre," says Ms. Lister-Jones, who wrote the screenplay with her real-life romantic partner, director Daryl Wein. "In most romantic comedies you are fighting for the girl to end up with the guy. Here, you are fighting for [Lola] to end up with herself."
In the past decade, female friends in romantic comedies have been taking on increasingly prominent roles, reflecting the fact that many women are delaying marriage until later in life. In these films, "female friendship supersedes heterosexual romance," says Leger Grindon, a professor of film and media culture at Middlebury College and the author of a 2011 book about the genre.
In the process, "the friend" is becoming a meatier character in many movies—in contrast to more traditional supporting figures like Rupert Everett's gay best-friend character in "My Best Friend's Wedding," or Joan Cusack's Cynthia, the wisecracking co-worker of Melanie Griffith's Tess, in the 1998 film "Working Girl."
Audiences have also become more accepting of less-than-perfect female leads, making their best friends seem comparatively sane. In last year's hit "Bridesmaids," Maya Rudolph played Lillian, the blissfully engaged best friend of Annie (Kristen Wiig), the protagonist who was unemployed, dating a sleazy man and ultimately forced to move in with her mother. Flawed lead characters are also showing up more often on television.
"Why do you think people are watching 'Girls' on HBO?" says Michael London, a "Lola Versus" producer who also produced "Sideways."
Ms. Lister-Jones has ample experience playing the friend. On the sitcom "Whitney," she has a recurring role as Lily, the best friend of the show's eponymous main character, played by Whitney Cummings. (Over the course of season one, Lily gets engaged, abruptly calls off the wedding, and later finds out that her ex-fiancé is bisexual.)
Initially, Ms. Lister-Jones had planned to play Lola, because she and Mr. Wein anticipated that the film, their second, would be made on a shoestring. Their last collaboration, 2009's "Breaking Upwards," cost $15,000 and was a hit on the film festival circuit. But after Mr. London came on board with Fox Searchlight, bringing an estimated $5 million budget, "the access to talent was totally different," she says.
The lead role of Lola went to Ms. Gerwig, an indie movie favorite from films like "Greenberg" and "Damsels in Distress" who herself appeared as the best friend in last year's "No Strings Attached," starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.
For Ms. Lister-Jones, playing the friend did have its benefits. Because her character didn't have to "carry" the film, she had more leeway to be unhinged. Alice takes drugs, ranging from marijuana in spray form to OxyContin, and overindulges in self-tanning, arriving at a club looking like a member of the cast of "Jersey Shore." She also provides advice to her sad-sack friend, telling Lola that she rounds her age up to 30 on dating websites, so she can get what she refers to as "the cougar advantage."
A supporting role "can be a challenge, in terms of humility," says Ms. Lister-Jones. "But it does give you room to experiment with character work."
Write to Rachel Dodes at email@example.com
A version of this article appeared June 1, 2012, on page D4 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Evolution of the 'Best Friend'.