Take thematic elements of Joe Swanberg‘s Happy Christmas, distill it down, add paint-by-numbers rom-com structure, weed out the elements that distinguish mumblecore as such and replace the winning Anna Kendrick with the accent-jostling Keira Knightley and you have Laggies, a competently told but widely borrowed tale of arrested adolescence.
Knightley is Megan, a wanderer of the pathetic breed. In the years since her high school prom – which the movie unexplainably opens on – her besties have become more mannered, her boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) more tame. With her sign-spinning job, dependence on others, total lack of direction and joyless “drifting through life” attitude, Megan is the short end of the stick.
On the night of her best friend’s wedding, she discovers her father (Jeff Garlin) cheating on her mother and flees from the scene of the crime to encounter Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants teen-rager who asks if she’ll buy her and her underaged posse some brewskis. Shortly thereafter, Anthony proposes to Megan, sending her into an existential spiral that lands her back in the company of the teenaged Annika and her suave, divorcee father Craig (Sam Rockwell).
As a film rummaging through underdeveloped ethos and aimless reckonings, Laggies seems like a freshman effort rather than the work of a seasoned pro. A marked improvement over director Lynn Shelton‘s last project, the wholeheartedly flat Touchy Feely, Laggies can’t help but feel like a director moving in the wrong director. After all, when everything is finally unpacked, there are no revelations we couldn’t see coming from minute 35, no statement that needed to explode out from the film.
All the asinine elements with which Shelton plays with have been done before and to greater effect. Look no further than the work of contemporary and mumblecore comrade Joe Swanberg to get not just one but many examples of this exact story done, quite frankly, far better. Both this year’s Happy Christmas and last year’s Drinking Buddies are perfect diagrams of how to make this brand of indie film. If Swanberg is dishing up fillets, Shelton seems content serving beef chuck. It’s the difference between medium rare and well done. Often less is more.
Having said that, one of the things that most annoys me about the film is how tidy everything is. In a film about chaos and confusion, characters on the brink of breaking down and frozen with fear of commitment, by the end of the film, have recovered miraculously. Shelton has put a nice little bow on everything as if to deem it appropriate viewing for a mom and her teenage daughter. It’s a scramble of odds and ends that shouldn’t fit so neatly together but ultimately do. The storybook ending is boring. Life is a mess. Real humans don’t get resolution. These are the platitudes that the mumblecore movement were founded on. To revert back to the stepping stones of the uninspired linear dramedy is to miss the point of the genre. It sounds harsh but I hate to see the potential squandered.
In the acting department, most of the crew is doing fine work. Knightley scrubs some of the char off her namesake that she’s earned with her most recent effort, offering a loafer of a character who, at the very least, comes with a few extra layers attached. Even if her perpetual indecisiveness is more noxious than pitiable, it’s nice to see Knightley changing up her game and bringing something wholly new to the table. Her accent coach must have retired though as her on-again-off-again accent flubs are nearly as noticeable here as they were in grizzly Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.
Standing aside her, Sam Rockwell, as always, is a gift. And yet, again, his character seemed like a bit of a wasted opportunity on all fronts. I would have liked to see more to him; more comedy, more tragedy, more everything. If Laggies were from Sam Rockwell’s character’s perspective, it would have been twice as good. And not-so-little Chloe Grace Moretz holds her own as well, showcasing a skill for understatement that was sorely missing in her last endeavor, If I Stay.
From a purely narcissistic angle, I appreciated the drizzly Seattle setting, which opened the doors to some of the finer establishments in the Emerald City, establishments that I have otherwise not stepped within. Steeped in the nonchalance of a Pacific Northwest rain shower, Laggies has a throbbing sense of place to it, one of the finer components in a film that really needs that kind of specificity. Though Benjamin Gibbard‘s musical score is entirely forgettable, other resident Benjamin, Bejamin Kasulke‘s subtle cinematography accomplishes its goal of keeping the characters in the forefront and the atmosphere appropriately Seattle. And though there are bits to like here and there, Laggies is a movie sorely missing a point.