A romantic comedy that’s sadly lagging behind
[Produced by Anonymous Content, BR Capital Group, Merced Media Partners, PalmStar Entertainment, PenLife Media, Siren Digital - Hollywood, & Solution Entertainment Group]
[Distributed by A24]
Directed by Lynn Shelton
Written by Andrea Seigel
Starring Keira Knightley, Sam Rockwell & Chloe Grace Moretz
Synopsis: In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Megan panics when her boyfriend proposes, then, taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika, who lives with her world-weary single dad.
The theme of arrested development is something that has been featured in a seemingly never ending parade of modern American comedy movies – often focusing on a thirty something manchild unable to find his place in the big, bad world. When you consider that one of the greatest American comedic creations of all time is the masterful sitcom Arrested Development, it’s no wonder that the theme keeps resurfacing – producers, directors, writers, and actors all desperate to try and catch some of that lightning in a bottle.
Most are unsuccessful, much like how Arrested Development would have been if it had chosen to just focus on Will Arnett’s failed magician, or Tony Hale’s psychotically dependent mother’s boy. These characters do not work as individuals, and it’s not enough to just see them stumble into trouble and goof off in increasingly puerile manners.
Comedy actress turned director Lynn Shelton attempts to redress the balance with Laggies, a film about a young woman in her late twenties dealing with her own form of arrested development. Played gamely by a revitalised Keira Knightley (sporting a slightly shoddy American accent no less), Megan is an enthusiastically lost young woman, dropping out of a promising career as a therapist to casually twirl a sign for her father’s own business. A constant disappointment to her mother, an embarrassment to her overbearing success-orientated sister, and a foil for her agonizingly bland and “patient” boyfriend (you know the type) – Megan just wants to escape from it all.
Prompted simultaneously by catching a family member enjoying an extra-marital fling, and the proposal of her loving, but dull boyfriend, Megan makes a quick excuse about a week long course dedicated to “finding yourself” and vanishes.
In the early stages Shelton, and writer Andrea Siegel, do a good job of setting up the various points of pressure in her life, and the suffocating atmosphere she often finds herself in. The problem is, her method of escape stretches credulity, and Laggies spirals further downward as each new plot beat seeks to undo and jeopardise the flow that has been previously established.
After fleeing her sister’s wedding, she is approached by a young girl named Annika (the great Chloe Grace Moretz), who at 16 years old convinces the rebellious Megan into buying her and her friends alcohol. Not only does Megan acquiesce, but she ends up spending the night hanging out with them – shirking her already meagre responsibilities to her family.
At the end of the evening, Annika, recognising a fellow lost soul hands her a burner mobile phone, like a drug dealer hooking a new customer. The next day, Megan receives a call – Annika isn’t doing well in school and wants Megan to come there and pretend that she’s her mother. Megan almost immediately accepts – making a grab for the glimpse of daring excitement, and trying to avoid anything close to adult responsibility.
After that, she asks Annika if she can stay at her home for a week, as she hides away from her real life. The fact that Annika immediately ingratiates this woman into every facet of her life so quickly is a worrying precedent – one that Megan is more than thrilled to take advantage of. Annika feels a sense of understanding with Megan, but Megan is just looking to avoid being an adult for as long as possible.
Suspension of disbelief is one of the most important tenants of cinema, and sadly what little hadn’t already eroded away, dissipates instantly when Annika’s father Craig (the always superb Sam Rockwell) bursts onto the scene and foils the girls’ plan to have Megan hide in their home. His reaction, at first, is realistic: he takes the woman downstairs and asks for a full explanation. What follows is no: he lets her stay. It’s a baffling, and unearned moment, one that eradicates any sense of credibility the film may have earned in its earlier moments.
Predictably, the tone shifts from a character drama into a simplistic romantic comedy, where Megan and Craig hit if off in a series of increasingly trite clichés. The fooling around while someone’s trying to get work done, the connecting with children moments, the drunken confession – Laggies hits all of these beats and more with an ambivalent attitude. These are treated more like necessary concessions to tell the story that wants to be told, but the balance is broken, and the film feels like two unfinished movies spliced together unconvincingly.
It takes a turn for the worse when later we learn things about Megan that allow us to catalogue the events that we’ve witnessed in a different light. No longer sympathetic, or charming, Megan becomes a destructive sociopath that breaks hearts and ruins the barely held-together lives of multiple people – all with a selfish indifference and oblivious to the damage she is causing.
What’s more, when we reach the saccharine conclusion it becomes frustratingly infantile; a “happy ending” (one that likely won’t stay happy for long) for a character that does not deserve it in the slightest.
It’s a shame, because there are moments where Laggies truly shines, such as the scene where Megan takes Annika to visit her washed up lingerie model mother – a broken woman who has no idea how to bond with her daughter – and ends up attempting to in a hauntingly pathetic way. Moretz adds another layered role to her already impressive repertoire, and Rockwell is equal blends charming and funny; elevating any scene that he’s in and all material that he’s given. Considering the potential repulsiveness of her character, Knightley gives a strong performance and keeps Megan relatively likeable throughout – just don’t think too hard about the character.
Ultimately, Laggies is a tonal jumble – a confused mess of scenes stitched together that’s more effective when attempting serious character drama, than actual romantic comedy feel-good spirit. It’s yet another incomplete feeling film from Shelton, who always has strong ideas, but never sees them through to the end. Despite its likeable cast, and unique twist on a well-worn premise, Laggies feels like its lagging behind the pack.