Truth be told, I’ve never found myself as fond of Lynn Shelton’s films as I am with the seemingly interesting concepts they’re introduced as. Humpday and its bromance-turned-romance for art could have been promising, as could Touchy Feely‘s masseuse who develops an aversion to touching skin, but both films fell into sour, and honestly rather boring, territory. With Laggies though, what could easily be considered Shelton’s most accessible film to date, it seems as though she’s finally found her footing.
As a perfect contrast to the opening titles, with its lovely little home videos of prom in which young women talk about friendship and their hopes for the future, Laggies begins ten years later, with Megan (Keira Knightley) at a rough point in her life. She’s essentially having an existential crisis: friends who she’s lost touch with, a boyfriend (Mark Webber) who is pressuring her to commit despite their differences, a non-existent career path, and a father who got a handjob in the parking lot outside a wedding. The fact that Megan runs off to hang out with a high school girl named Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her father Craig (Sam Rockwell) for a week while all this is going on isn’t exactly surprising.
And, while most people would find that kind of ridiculous escapism reproachable (as the whole x-life crisis scenario is something rather typical in indie filmmaking), Lynn Shelton embraces this messed-up character, just as she always has. This sort of quarter-life crisis that Andrea Seigel’s script presents allows her to settle in the kind of atmosphere she thrives in; somewhere between heavy drama and light comedy that lets her make all the jokes she wants while also delivering some harsh truths. In fact, the writer and director are practically a match made in heaven, even though some might find the premise a little tired.
Where Seigel’s script gives us depth to the relationships presented and also provides solid enough characters (only occasionally relying on the kind of things you’d see in a film of a similar nature), Shelton brings out the best of these characters by coaxing out some truly solid performances and making their quirks pop. It’s about finding the balance between the real and the ridiculous, and they nail that. Watching a Skype phone call between Megan and her boyfriend as they struggle feels all too natural, and weirdly enough, watching Ellie Kemper’s character and her newly-wed husband awkwardly dance to a cover of Daniel Bedingfield’s “If You’re Not the One” does too. Most notable is Kaitlyn Dever, who steals practically every scene she’s in by delivering some much needed comic relief to the few moments where the script makes its punches. Her performance here is a stark contrast to her great work in Short Term 12 and the disastrous Men, Women & Children, and it makes one curious to see where her career can launch from here.
So much of the way characters act in Laggies could be considered as unappealing by mass audiences, but at its heart, it’s a thankfully tender film; one with more to say than what its poor marketing seems to offer. It’s a long way from the mumblecore world Lynn Shelton began with, the polished feel of your usual mainstream romcom making it shine a little brighter than usual, but it still maintains those indie sensibilities. Not everything in life is a happy ending, and what Laggies does best is deliver the message that relationships are constantly shifting and changing. It says that having an honest conversation with people, regardless of how unappealing it sounds, is often the best decision a person can make in life.
Directed by Lynn Shelton; written by Andrea Seigel; starring Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper, Kaitlyn Dever, and Jeff Garlin; 99 minutes.
Laggies is currently in theaters everywhere.