Lynn Shelton’s latest indie dramedy, Laggies, not only comes with the largest budget that the director’s ever worked with, but also the first script she did not pen herself (written instead by Andrea Seigel). Set on the outskirts of Seattle, the film tracks Megan (Keira Knightley), a young woman out of graduate school, working as the underemployed “sign girl” for her father’s tax firm and as she describes it, “floating,” through life. Still hanging out with the high school friends she went to prom with and dating the same high school sweetheart, Keira has a crisis of confidence when her boyfriend (Mark Webber) attempts to propose to her at a friend’s wedding.
The early representations of Megan friends paint the group as square and simple. A joke Megan makes a bout a Buddha statue’s nipples offends her one friend (portrayed effectively by the perpetually underused Ellie Kemper) despite her not being a Buddhist. Another friend asks Megan to be the godmother to her unborn child “Juppiter” (yes, with two Ps). The rendering of these friends as unfunny and lacking self-awareness is supposed to help illustrate that Megan’s outgrown her old social group, but the depiction simply feels mean to a lot of well-meaning, albeit annoying, characters. Some of those sentiments are salvaged by a few good jokes and charming performances from the aforementioned Kemper and Webber; however, the film is a little obvious in this part and becomes more enjoyable in the sections without this social circle present.
Looking to retreat from her life for a chance to re-evaluate her situation, Megan runs into Annika (Chloë Grace-Moretz) and a group of underage kids looking for help to buy alcohol. “We all forgot our IDs,” Annika informs Keira in the parking lot to the liquor store. “Someone did this for me when I was your age,” Megan replies, immediately connecting with the teenagers. After purchasing their booze, the youngsters insist that Megan continue to hang out with them, and then they’re off together to go drink, skateboard, and toilet paper houses. Knowing Annika owes her a favor, Megan finds herself comfortable enough to ask if she can hide out in Annika’s house for the week, while she lies to her friends and family that she’s attending a self-development seminar.
Through both her character and her performance, Keira Knightley’s Megan serves as an ideal mentor to the younger Annika, whose problems feel disproportionately difficult thanks to being to a teenager whose mother left years ago. Megan becomes both a mother figure, helping Annika how to get the “smoky eye” effect with makeup, and a cool older sister, going to parties and even piercing the ears of some of Annika’s friends. With Megan’s help, Annika is able to overcome fears she’s unable to handle on her own.
Megan’s distance from those years of her life is enough to allow for perspective, but not so much that she finds herself unable to relate to the younger girls. Additionally, Keira Knightley fully embodies that conflicted sense of knowing Annika’s lifestyle but not being young enough to still live it. With her flawless American accent and removed from the corsets of a by-gone millennium, Knightley delivers one of her most charming and relatable on screen roles to date, despite the character’s occasional lack of likeability.
Events soon become more complicated as Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell) discovers a 20-something year old woman sleeping on the floor of his high school daughter’s bedroom. Rather than immediately kick her out, he allows Megan to stay for the week in the guest bedroom under the assumption that Megan is simply looking for a place to go for a week while in between apartment releases, and does not want to deal with her friends and family. As Megan continues to help Annika feel more comfortable, Craig comes to embrace Megan’s presence as another adult in the house, even inviting her out for drinks.
Their roles in Laggies provide solid opportunities for both Chloë Grace-Moretz and Sam Rockwell. For Moretz, Laggies is one of two films in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival that she stars in. However, unlike her role in The Equalizer, which casts her as a street-wise prostitute, as Annika, Moretz seems well situated to fill the shoes of her character. After surprising and shocking audiences as Hit Girl from 2010’s Kick-Ass, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Moretz so effectively play a down-to-earth girl of her own age. For Rockwell, it should seem no surprise to see a charismatic performance as Annika’s slightly off-kilter father. He’s gets to play the type of cool dad most people think they want but in actuality, finds a way to continually annoy his daughter (just like any other parent).
Tonally, Laggies is familiar territory for the Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister director, but without the filmmaker’s typical reliance on improvised scenes that give her films a more deliberate pace. Laggies falls far closer to traditional comedies in that sense, a crowd-pleasing romantic comedy that mines from areas already explored in many other films. The most novel concept is allowing a woman into the role of perpetual teenager that’s usually occupied by man-boys in comedies by Judd Apatow. Despite this, though, Laggies isn’t distinct enough or uniquely female enough to register as a very different approach to that conceit.
Laggies is funny in parts, and features Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace-Moretz and Sam Rockwell in strong performances, but is mostly a familiar adult-in-adolescence comedy.