Directed by Lynn Shelton
Early on in Laggies there’s a moment where a group of friends play a naughty caption game at a bachelorette party. Megan, by general consensus the fuckup of the group, writes a goofy one that leads to her friends scolding her for being too nasty. Later, her boyfriend balks at her disinterest in a “personal growth seminar,” wherein customers are assigned spirit animals as a means to career fulfillment.
Your sympathies are entirely with Megan, right? The friends are grotesquely puritanical and the boyfriend’s some kind of milquetoast New Agey doofus. Wrong. Laggies is the latest entry in the too-popular “stunted adult must grow up” genre, and these scenes are meant to establish her immaturity and lack of ambition. She’s so unsuited for adult living, indeed, that when her boyfriend proposes she flees her group’s bubble to clear her head, crashing at the house of a teenager she recently met.
Laggies was directed by Lynn Shelton, who has in the past mined terrific comedy out of young people debating how much of their lives to destroy in attempts to stop feeling adrift. Humpday had a shoestring budget that showed, but it worked because of its pitch-perfect dialogue and insights into male pride. Shelton scales up here, with improved technical elements and marquee names (Keira Knightley plays Megan, Chloe Grace Moretz is the teenage daughter of Sam Rockwell), but that comes the expense of the naturalism and nuance that made Humpday so remarkable. The studio notes may as well be closed-captioned.
The film is all the more frustrating for its many moments that point to a better movie behind the formula. When the characters have impulses towards honesty and forgiveness instead of sitcom broadness, Laggies becomes compelling and even touching. Rockwell is the real MVP here, rightly skeptical of Megan at first, but willing to extend the benefit of the doubt—to a point.
Knightley does what she can with Megan, but the writing is so inconsistent—she’s so wise in this scene, so out of her depth in the next—that what should come off as complexity instead feels like the filmmakers have no firm grasp of her character. She’s painted as stunted because—at the ripe old age of 28—she doesn’t want to get married and lacks certainty about her professional aspirations (career issues in these movies always come down to a lack of gumption, not the socioeconomic factors that disproportionately hurt millennials). At the same time, the film also looks down on her friends, supposedly the people she should be striving to emulate.
There’s an interesting dynamic to be explored in the relationship between a teenager and an adult stuck at that emotional level, but Laggies only makes brief swipes at it. The troubling question at the end isn’t whether Megan learned anything, but whether Shelton can remember the qualities that made her someone to watch in the first place.
Opens October 24