NOTE: This is an edited reprint of my review from the Sundance Film Festival. Laggies hits theaters on Oct. 24th.
Film festivals, in particular Sundance, have always been fertile ground for the “arrested development” comedy. Usually these movies involve men, are generally pretty comfortable and inoffensive, although they tend to be presented as more meaningful than they really are. Indie stalwart Lynn Shelton has always been given to headier comedies that explore uneasy relationships, such as in movies like Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister, and Touchy Feely. With Laggies, Shelton puts a twist on the formula with a female protagonist, and while the film has its charms and is quite a bit of fun at times, it’s also improbable and a step down compared to Shelton’s more challenging work.
The fault doesn’t lie solely at Shelton’s feet; however, as Laggies marks her first time directing someone else’s script. Novelist Andrea Seigel penned the story which centers on high school beauty Megan (Keira Knightley), who ten years after graduation is still best friends with her closest clique. She’s been dating her high school sweetheart Mark (Mark Webber), drifting aimlessly through life while her friends are moving forward with babies and weddings. Her stagnation is enabled by her father (Jeff Garlin), who hires her to twirl a giant arrow sign luring in customers to his tax business. Basically she’s going nowhere fast, and it’s begun to piss off her friends.
After screwing up the wedding of her uptight best friend (Ellie Kemper), witnessing her father in a compromising position, and Mark’s sudden marriage proposal, Megan freaks out and looks for anywhere to escape. Running into the 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Moretz) and buying the girl a bunch of liquor, Megan feels a kinship with her and, seeing a brief respite from responsibility, spends the evening drinking with Annika and her friends. Another encounter leads to Megan staying at Annika’s house for the week, lying to Mark that she’s off at a career-building seminar. Basically she decides to give up her old friends and start again with new, younger ones.
Sound plausible? Of course not, and at least the oddness of the situation is addressed, mostly by Annika’s lawyer father (Sam Rockwell), a single dad who seems intrigued to have a sexy woman in the house again but disturbed by this adult hanging out with his child. And he darn well should be disturbed, because Megan is a tough character to root for. She lies, makes awful decisions that hurt a great many people, and is often irresponsible in the way that isn’t cute. More sympathetic is Annika, played beautifully by Moretz, who desperately is seeking some sort of motherly connection to balance her father’s overprotective nature. Similar to how he gave The Way Way Back a boost of comic energy last year, Rockwell steals every scene he’s in and makes everyone around him better. The rest of the supporting cast is solid, although someone needs to tell Mark Webber it’s time to move on from the boring nice guy roles. There are other personality traits beyond “nice”. Short Term 12 break-out Kaitlyn Dever makes the best of limited time as Annika’s rambunctious best friend.
Megan’s dysfunction is relayed in broad strokes, and the consequences of her most dangerous actions can be forgiven with a hug, some sweet music, and a joke. When her irresponsibility actually causes an accident that endangers Annika, it isn’t treated as a very big deal. Yes, the film skates on the edges of believability but it calls on us to take certain things seriously when there are never any repercussions for Megan. While it’s true that adults don’t always have the answers and sometimes make childish mistakes, Laggies says as long as you look like Keira Knightley everything will be fine.