There have been innumerable comedies about arrested-development type guys, so it only seems fair that there should be a few gender-reversal ones. But it’s a pity that Lynn Shelton’s “Laggies” is just as feeble as most of its male-oriented brethren are.
Keira Knightley, acting as broadly as the star of any network sitcom, plays Megan, a young woman approaching thirty who’s at a stand-still in her life. Though she has a degree in psychology, she’s put off taking a position in her field and instead just spends her days standing on the curb with a sign advertising the tax-related business of her dad (Jeff Garlin). She lives with a blandly attentive long-time boyfriend, a photographer named Anthony (Mark Webber). And she still hangs out with her coterie of high-school girlfriends, headed by the overbearing Allison (Ellen Kemper). Megan is discontented, but doesn’t quite know why.
Her unsatisfactory circumstance is brought home by a double whammy at Allison’s wedding. Megan glimpses her dad in a compromising situation with a woman other than her mom. And Anthony suddenly proposes. Thrown into a dizzy, she rushes off, ending up at a supermarket where she agrees to buy some beer and wine for a quartet of teens, among them Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), with whom she spends a few hours. That persuades her that she needs time to think over what to do with her life, so she impulsively tells Anthony that she’s going off to a seminar, while actually planning to crash with the amenable Annika for a few days.
It doesn’t quite work out like the stealthy sleep-over Megan and Annika plan, however. The girl’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell), a divorced lawyer who’s also a divorce lawyer, quickly discovers the interloper sleeping on the floor of his daughter’s room. But despite reservations he allows her to stay anyway. During her sojourn Megan helps Annika and her friends deal with their problems—broken homes and infatuations most notable among them—while eventually facing up to her own. Needless to say, there’s also time for her and Craig to develop feelings for one another.
One might feel a little bit queasy over the idea of a thirty-something woman trying to find herself by essentially becoming a high-schooler again, at least in terms of the people she chooses to hang out with. But Andrea Seigel’s screenplay overcomes the charge of creepiness, at least partially, by turning Megan into a kind of surrogate mother to Annika—taking her to visit her actual mom (Gretchen Moll) to achieve a kind of closure, for example—although it’s possible to wonder whether a woman so confused about herself could be much help to a girl ten years her junior.
But the real weakness of “Laggies” lies in its capitulation to what are little better than sitcom conventions, which are often dished up with a casual cruelty that people tend not to notice. (Note: Spoilers follow. Read on at your own risk.) One might wish for Megan and Craig to get together, for example, but the peremptory treatment of Anthony, who as played by Webber is a bit of a dunce, is pretty appalling. And when at Megan’s urging Annika, at the school prom, tells the boy she’s interested in about her feelings, he simply dumps his date and dances with her. Fine for Annika, but what of that faceless girl who’s now watching the new couple? This is a movie that wants to say something about the difficult process of maturation, but in the end it’s pretty juvenile itself.
One can, nevertheless, glean some enjoyment from a few of the performances. Not Knightley’s, which involves far too much scrunching up of the face and flamboyant gesturing; but Rockwell’s easygoing demeanor, though familiar from previous films, is welcome, especially since Seigel’s script provides him with some scenes he can really toy with. And Moretz redeems herself somewhat after “If I Stay.” The jury may still be out as to whether she’ll successfully graduate to adult roles, but the evidence here is on the positive side of the ledger.
“Laggies” is an independent film, and while a distinct step up technically from Shelton’s ragged mumblecore entries, it lacks the slickness of big-budget Hollywood product, though Ben Kasulke’s cinematography is perfectly decent and the other behind-the-camera contributions adequate as well. But though the packaging retains a bit of indie grunge, in terms of content the picture isn’t all that far removed from typical studio romcoms—and to be frank doesn’t rate higher than the middle of the pack.