Indy director Lynn Shelton takes a giant step towards, be careful what you wish for, mainstream success with her latest outing, “Laggies,” a likeable and perceptive comedy that could, damn it, actually (gasp) make money. This is the first movie Shelton’s directed that she didn’t write herself, but it isn’t hard to see what she might have liked in the screenplay by promising newcomer Andrea Siegel.
“Laggies” chronicles the quarter-life crisis of twentysomething suburbanite Megan (Keira Knightley) who, ten years after her high school graduation, continues to coast through life with neither career nor motivation. Her mother may click her tongue in disapproval, but Megan’s adoring father (Jeff Garlin) and low maintenance boyfriend (Mark Webber) enable her shamelessly. Megan’s social circle is largely the same group of people she went to high school with, several of whom are showing distinct signs of turning into adults. It is obvious to the audience far earlier than it is to the character that she’s making major life decisions by taking the path of least resistance. But Megan is a character you want to root for, and Keira Knightley is luminous in the role.
When her boyfriend proposes at the wedding reception of a mutual friend (Ellie Kemper), followed by seeing her father in a compromising position, Megan heads for the hills. She bolts, and a solo, late evening drive takes her to a convenience store parking lot where she impulsively agrees to buy booze for a group of teens, led by the charismatic, precocious Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz). It’s startling to see Moretz in a role where she doesn’t dominate the movie, but she’s effective nonetheless as a bright slacker struggling to come to terms with her perceived abandonment by her mother.
Megan and Annika quickly bond, and Annika lets Megan lie low at her place, where she’s sure her father, an overworked, divorced divorce lawyer won’t even notice she’s there. Thank God Siegel’s screenplay doesn’t expect us to suspend our disbelief to that degree. He does notice, of course, and Sam Rockwell delivers something he’s been overdue for – a romantic lead. His single dad is a wounded character, still trying to understand why Annika’s mom left him years before, and beginning to believe he can’t gel with other women. The sudden presence of a beautiful young stranger in his house shakes up that equation. The only thing standing between Rockwell and major stardom is that he’s a hell of an actor, often unrecognizable from one role to the next. One would think he’ll be offered more romcom material after this.
It’s not surprising that Megan, who is clearly resisting growing up, feels a sense of liberation in the company of cool teenagers. It is perhaps a little harder to understand how she could fail to instantly grasp that the fact that her first instinct to a marriage proposal from a longtime, live-in boyfriend is to hide out for a week, might be a warning sign. The age difference between the 29 year old Knightley and the 46 year old Rockwell doesn’t seem extreme here, and if anything, one wonders how Megan would even hesitate to jettison the holdovers of adolescence in favor of this promising relationship. The audience may occasionally want to strangle her for failing to heed the obvious romantic chemistry between her and Rockwell’s wounded dad (Annika’s mom moved out on him years ago for nebulous reasons), but the singular advantage of young heroines is that they can get away with being far more difficult than their male counterparts.
The story is edgier than it feels. Underage drinking is only one issue that is treated with a disarming apparent cavalier attitude that belies its seriousness. Siegel’s script may occasionally reach a little harder than it needs to for laughs (a turtle with an eating disorder?), but it brilliantly straddles Megan’s attempts to fit into two worlds – the carefree teen years she misses and the adult world that both attracts and terrifies her, as she explores a burgeoning new romance. It’s also unrelentingly optimistic, cheerful and pleasantly devoid of the angst that pervades most modern coming-of-age comedies.These characters are beset by first world problems, but ones that will be immediately recognizable by the audience. Shelton keeps the script’s balls in the air with apparent effortlessness. Unlike her characters, she know exactly where she’s going, and keeps the ride entertaining.
“Laggies” opens locally Friday, November 7th at The Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX.