by Ken Carrell
TL;DR – When Megan hits a quarter-life crisis some time after finishing grad school, she’s working for her dad as a sign spinner and she panics when her boyfriend tries to propose. She hides out for a week with a befriended high school senior and negotiates the rocky beginnings of a relationship with her dad. Keira Knightley gives a sweetly genuine performance accompanied with some great direction from Lynn Shelton.
Every year, dozens of brilliant indie movies, slide right under the radar due to poor promotional campaigns or whatever other reasons. Laggies is, sadly, one of these movies. It has a brilliant top-billed cast and is guided by a beautifully crafted direction from Lynn Shelton. Her previous films have not fared well, either in reviews or in box office numbers, so having a film this good under her belt is really a well-deserved win for a director with some clear potential. But given the fact that this film had almost no promotion, it’s going to slide right under most audiences.
After the opening credits, we open on Megan (Keira Knightley) arriving at work, which happens to be for her dad’s (Jeff Garlin) seemingly downtrodden accounting firm, as a sign flipper. Since she has a Master’s in marriage counseling, the obvious question is, “what happened?” Various other scenes occur in sequence from an amusing moment of her squeezing the Buddha’s nipples to her friends’ wedding where her she stops her boyfriend from proposing. Some of the exposition in this opening act is a little forceful and rammed in for the sake of giving audiences what they need, even though it’s not always necessary.
With the combination of her boyfriend’s (Mark Webber) proposal and seeing her dad in a compromising situation, she panics and runs out to where anyone else goes when they’re having a bad night: the liquor store. Here, she meets high school senior Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her high school senior friends. After her problems boil over to the point where she needs to escape, she cashes in her favors to Annika by crashing at her house for a week in a tangled web she’s built. The introduction of Annika’s dad Craig (Sam Rockwell) adds some flavor to the story. For fear of giving away anything else from the plot, I’ll stop here.
Keira Knightley essentially plays myself in this film. Megan is a confused mid-20’s with a graduate degree who is unwilling to let go of her past for fear of an unclear future. That’s basically me. All joking aside, her performance in this film is one of the best of her career. She manages to capture so many subtle nuances of her character that would have been lost on someone less talented. There are no grandiose emotional scenes with any explosive tempers or monstrously sob moments, but the particular things in the performance needed to be wholly committed to and they are.
Sam Rockwell also gives a great performance that mirrors Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad perhaps a little too closely. Maybe it’s the voice, maybe it’s the smart aleck attitude, maybe it’s Maybelline. Whatever it is, it works incredibly well for his character who gives off the tough-guy façade but has some vulnerability under the surface. (Sidebar: he’s a divorced divorce lawyer in this film; how is this not an archetype that pops up more often in film? It seems like such an obvious irony that wills itself to forehead slapping accompanied with “why didn’t I think of that?”).
I also must take a moment to compliment Benjamin Kasulke’s cinematography. Romantic comedies rarely ever require the beautiful cinematography we’re used to in a Christopher Nolan or Alfonso Cuarón film. Despite this, he still manages to create some visually pleasing moments with reflections, lighting, and color. Not every scene benefits from this magic touch (lighting issues in a couple scenes) but often the effort to create the setup necessary for the scene shines through with the visuals.
I, as kind of a rule, hate romantic comedies. I’ve just never liked them. But this one is so subtle, sweet, optimistic, and adorable, it’s hard to not walk out of the theatre smiling. It’s not plot-heavy. Compared to other films its plot is pretty thin. But it’s okay because it’s definitely a character-driven piece. Watching Megan being forced to grow up, Craig lowering his defenses, and Annika learning to take risks with the boy she likes, all wrap up into a fun-to-watch popcorn flick that doesn’t require a ton of effort to follow.
Final grade: A-