Always, Lola Image

Always, Lola

By Andrew Stover | November 22, 2023

The coming-of-age genre is crowded. But there is so much thematic depth and appealing nostalgia in capturing what it is like to grow up in a specific era and to experience love, heartbreak, and perhaps even loss for the first time. With the latest indie coming-of-age drama, Always, Lola, writer-director Jeffrey Crane Graham utilizes a campground, the perfect place for animated, garrulous young people on the brink of adulthood to get together for some unbridled fun.

Every year, during her birthday, Lola (Roxy Striar) goes to a campground and devises a scavenger hunt for her friends. There’s Trey (Collin Campana), Riggs (Sheldon White), Camila (Candice Cruz), and Lee (Andrew Ghai). This year’s hunt, however, will involve another participant, Lola’s twin sister, Katherine (Corrinne Mica). Lola gives every friend an envelope with clues pertaining to the whereabouts of their gift. During the camping trip, Katherine criticizes Lola for always acting recklessly. The confrontation ends with Katherine storming off and Lola burning Katherine’s envelope. The camera stays on the envelope engulfed in flames, signifying a foreboding shift in tone.

One year later, the crew appears disconnected, either from each other or from their feelings — or both. Riggs receives a scheduled email from Lola about the next birthday camping trip, which brings about confusion since it’s revealed that Lola tragically died from an overdose. The crew all agree to return to the campsite for a final scavenger hunt, hoping to find closure and say goodbye on their own terms.

“…devises a scavenger hunt for her friends…Lola gives every friend an envelope with clues pertaining to the whereabouts of their gift.”

Grief and loss affect people differently, which Graham recognizes and exhibits through the characterization of each character. Trey thinks of Lola as his best friend and becomes increasingly uneasy about the potential realization that Lola couldn’t fully open up to him. Campana gives a delightful performance. In an emotionally impactful scene involving a video compilation, Campana initially puts on the brightest smile, but then tears begin to fall as reality sets in again. The plethora of emotion that befalls Trey is keenly felt.

Riggs is racked with guilt and self-loathing, but as the story progresses, truths that steer the narrative in a more somber yet undeniably more thoughtful direction are unearthed. Still, these truths are presented in a rather cursory manner. But the actors have good chemistry, and they make you feel how Lola’s passing has impacted every one of them.

Lee, Camila, and Katherine relive moments they had with Lola, particularly Katherine. Given the complicated nature of Lola and Katherine’s dynamic, Katherine exudes overt rage and rancor toward Lola while still offering words and gestures to show that she cares. Mica, who plays Katherine, demonstrates this nuance nicely. While the addition of two influencers feels immensely contrived, their absurd antics do provoke a strong reaction out of Lola and Katherine that feels appropriate given the influencers’ half-witted qualities.

But, for a movie called Always, Lola, Lola herself must be discussed. Lola is reckless and assertive, but she can also be sensitive and empowering (in her own way). Striar is outstanding as the titular character — at times frustrating, other times endearing. Striar deftly embodies Lola’s intensity. In an early scene, Lola walks back and forth in frustration, and her thought process escalates (good use of jump-cutting here to help convey this).

With a devoted cast and crew behind and in front of the camera, Always, Lola is a heartwarming exploration of grief, loss, and addiction that isn’t all doom and gloom. Graham instills the characters’ inner journeys with plenty of hope. In fact, you will probably leave feeling more appreciative of the friends and siblings in your life.

For screening information, visit the Always, Lola official website.

Always, Lola (2023)

Directed and Written: Jeffrey Crane Graham

Starring: Corrinne Mica, Roxy Striar, Collin Campana, Candice Cruz, Andrew Ghai, Sheldon White, etc.

Movie score: 7/10

Always, Lola Image

"…heartwarming exploration of grief..."

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  1. Kim Gunn says:

    I was lucky enough to see this film in Indianapolis at the Heartland Film Festival. It was a moving, honest, and heart-wrenching tale of friends at their best and worst. I highly recommend!

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