As a filmmaker, Julie Delpy has a talent for communicating the private energies that are transmitted within romantic couples. Her actors, including herself, often exude a sense of manic obsession that’s emphasized by the sprightly editing and slightly topsy-turvy images of her films. A curiously unsentimental director of romantic comedies, she sees romance for the work that it primarily is. Delpy’s narratives typically concern the real minutiae faced by couples, such as issues of cultural clashing, sexual insecurity, miscommunication, and the sheer logistical organization of balancing the new people and elements that a lover brings into one’s life.
Like 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, Lolo pivots on opposites attracting. Violette (Delpy) is a chic figure working in the Paris fashion industry, given to ruing her lack of a love life with her friend Ariane (Karin Viard). The first scene of the film offers one of Delpy’s characteristic fusions of the glamorous and the cuckoo, as Violette and Ariane sit in a luxurious spa, with Violette soon complaining about the water shooting up her “pussy.” This sort of frankness is still startling for a romantic comedy, particularly one that’s filtered through a woman’s consciousness, and it establishes a mood of absurdist sexual longing. Violette and Ariane are attractive, intelligent women, but they’re in their middle 40s, and society conditions us, of course, to hate ourselves for aging out of our 20s, so they feel put out to pasture.
At a party, Violette hits it off with Jean-René (Dany Boon) after he earlier dumped a huge tuna into her lap by accident. The discrepancy between the two is striking, not only in appearance, but in poise and cultural affluence. For all her neurotic self-laceration, Violette is a catch, while Jean-René is a klutzy goof with an odd manner that Violette and Ariane ascribe to his being a “bumpkin.” But he’s smart, has a good job, and is moving to Paris soon. Most importantly, Jean-René radiates a poignant, uncomplicated decency that manifests itself as awe for Violette. As both a filmmaker and an actor, Delpy is mercilessly alive to how grateful a woman north of 40 can be for a kernel or two of respect and interest from someone else, and this appears to be the subject of the film: the way definitions of romance and love change over time as we grow to qualify ourselves differently.
But the film also filters the tension of Violette and Jean-René’s union through a rickety high concept. Violette has a 19-year-old son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste), who’s an entitled terror and immediately sets out to sabotage his mother’s new relationship, moving back into Violette’s house and framing Jean-René for a variety of increasingly elaborate offenses. The moments between Violette and Lolo are memorably strange, nearly erotic; Delpy doesn’t shy away from the creepiness of this quasi-Oedipal relationship. But Lolo’s rivalry with Jean-René lacks snap, as the director is caught between sentimentalizing the relationship, which wouldn’t jive with the pervading tone, and steering the film into stalker-genre terrain, which would come equally out of nowhere. Lolo isn’t just a distraction for the other characters, but an impediment to Lolo itself. He symbolizes anxieties that Delpy’s already beautifully expressed.