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LAGGIES

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.

THE GREAT INVISIBLE

The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of 2010 and its continuing impact on the residents of the Gulf—as well as the workers directly affected by it—are the subjects of Margaret Brown’s sober, often moving documentary. But “The Great Invisible” also goes beyond that singular calamity, raising broader questions about America’s lack of a coherent energy policy and the government’s inability to effectively regulate an industry on which it has become so financially dependent.

The terrible explosion that consumed BP’s offshore rig, killing eleven workers, and the monumental discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico that resulted from it are depicted brilliantly through the use of found footage and the mournful testimony of two men who lived through it—chief mechanic Doug Brown and roustabout Stephen Stone. Brown in particular grieves over the fact that he was aware of unsafe procedures that were being mandated to cut costs and increase company profits, but both point to an industry culture of manliness that invites a reckless attitude. The traumatic effect of the experience on the two is palpably conveyed, not only in their injuries but in their suicidal impulses. Their observations are buttressed by those of Keith Jones, a lawyer whose son Gordon died in the conflagration and has devoted himself to documenting company practices that contributed to it. Contrast is provided in footage of oilmen talking at conferences about their business, complaining over drinks about governmental regulations that can stifle their freedom of operation, and sequences showing the continuing sale of offshore drilling rights through auctions that bring in huge profits for the treasury—amounts that are second only to taxes as a source of federal revenue.

But “The Great Invisible” is equally about the suffering of locals whose livelihood was threatened, and in some cases destroyed, by the disaster. Brown introduces us to many of them in direct interviews, but also in sequences that follow Roosevelt Harris, a church volunteer who delivers boxes of groceries to families in need and cooks free meals for the hundreds who will come to the church hall for them, as well as Latham Smith, a tugboat captain who speaks from firsthand experience of the loss of jobs that persists in the area, as well as the continuing effect of the spill on marine life (fishermen and shrimpers are still suffering). Her film also points an accusing finger at Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed to oversee the trust designed to distribute the $20 billion settlement funds to those impacted by the spill—which has proven extremely inefficient—and at Congress, which in the four intervening years has issued not a single new safety regulation covering offshore drilling.

The American people’s attention span is very short as the nation lurches from one crisis to the next. The aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy is a continuing problem, but one that’s fallen from the public—and political—consciousness. “The Great Invisible” performs a service by reminding us of it, and it does so very well.