by Matt Smith
Laggies, the new film from director Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister), is a rather delightful rom-com about moving on from all the things holding you back. Indeed, the term “laggies” refers directly to its protagonist Meg’s (Keira Knightley) group of friends, who just can’t move past their identities in high school, as much as it does to Meg herself, who is lagging behind her development as an adult. Meg is down and out, in the full throes of a quarter-life crisis, and can’t move beyond her lack of a professional identity or her relationship with high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) which hasn’t progressed in nearly a decade. She’s in the middle of the same group of friends who have aggressively pushed themselves into adulthood—marriage, children, humorlessness—while missing the point of what growing up should be about. The stages of life sure seem miserable, and the fact that Meg wants none of it doesn’t seem to please her friends.
When Anthony is set to advance their relationship by proposing at one of their friends’ weddings, Meg runs away from the responsibilities encroaching on her position in one last attempt to figure herself out. She befriends a group of high school seniors by buying them beer outside of a service station, and strikes up a relationship with Annika (Chlöe Grace Moretz), a full ten years her junior. After Meg agrees to pose as Annika’s mother for a meeting with her school’s guidance counselor, she asks Annika if she can stay over at her house for a week so she can evade Anthony and pretend she is away on a development retreat to help her get her act together. The first night in Annika’s house is a minor disaster since Annika’s dad Craig (Sam Rockwell) is home when he isn’t supposed to be and discovers Meg’s ruse, putting her through the ringer as to why she’s so intent on spending the night with his much younger daughter. After an extensive period of questioning, during which Meg reveals that she thinks Annika is a really smart girl she just enjoys being around, Craig decides she can stay in the guest room for the week.
The plot from here becomes increasingly implausible, but comedies aren’t meant to be entirely realistic. The absurdity of the situation Meg has placed herself and the other characters in is blatant. None of them want to grow beyond the borders they’ve developed in their lives because of the fear of leaving their past behind. Aside from Meg’s aforementioned issues with her friends and with Anthony, Craig has never recovered from his wife leaving him when Annika was a small child and hasn’t felt a connection with a single date in years. Annika not only feels alienated by her mother’s abandonment, but also the fact that she’s a girl in high school who is developing feelings for a long-time friend. They’re all “lagging” in some regard, hence the film’s title. These people are laggies of the first order.
At the core of this movie is the relationship between Meg and Annika, which may seem crazy, and perhaps it is, but which works nonetheless because of the similarities in their worldviews. More than anything Laggies is a movie about the friendship of these two characters and the ways they help one another work through the problems facing them. Sure, Annika might be ten years younger than Meg, but it’s not like Meg ever really left high school, which is her entire problem in a nutshell. As they spend more time together, Meg starts to get that, and in turn begins to help Annika move along with her own life, the overlying message being that you have to do what is best for your own situation and damn everyone else. If not for yourself and the improvement of your own situation, and without actively destroying someone else’s life, what’s the real point of doing anything? As she tells Annika at the end of the film, “You can’t keep putting aside what you want for some imaginary future.” Life doesn’t work out just because it has to, because we have some sort of fate that will come along and make things happen. You have to be proactive about it or you just stay where you are.
This is driven home in the film’s final moments when Meg finally convinces Annika to ask her crush, Junior (Daniel Zovatto) for the last dance at the prom. Annika goes up and pointedly asks him if he’d like to go out with her and also if she can cut in. They begin dancing and the camera does something we don’t often see in these situations: it gives us the disbelief of the other girl instead of just leaving her off to the side. She’s left to deal with Annika’s self-serving behavior, but we have to deal with it as viewers. This is not without precedent. In an earlier scene when Meg finally leaves Anthony, we have to deal with those consequences, too, and I have to say that it’s really the only time in the film that I felt any sort of sympathy for Anthony. Red-faced and teary-eyed, he returns Meg’s cliched insistence that they’ll still see each other and keep in touch with a simple acknowledgement, but one that hints at the truth of these situations: no, they won’t. In these scenes Shelton demonstrates that there are consequences to our actions, sometimes very hurtful to other people we love, but the actions themselves might be nonetheless necessary. But just to see a film that acknowledges that is kind of amazing.
So while Laggies may not offer anything terribly new, it is a film worth seeing. It’s a small miracle of American independent cinema, and the fact that what the movies really about is the friendship between two women at different stages in their life who share common bonds should help you see why it might qualify as such. Knightley and Moritz are amazingly good together. Unbounded by the trappings of her larger budget work, Keira Knightley is loose and fun and quite amazing to just watch on screen, a situation not dissimilar to her earlier indie dramedy turn in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. As a performer who consistently turns in top-notch dramatic work as well as some big budget blockbuster turns, it’s refreshing to see her go much smaller and goofier. She has a knack for comedy that doesn’t get explored too often, but damn well should.
4 out of 5 stars