"I'm my own animal."
When the quarter-life crisis became an accepted rite of passage about a decade ago, it hit right when I was in the midst of mine. It seemed like a viable way to give a name to that malaise that hits all twenty-somethings who have to grudgingly accept that life isn't going to be all that we had thought it would as teens. It's certainly not a new phenomenon, it's just that in this day and age, we love to label things in an attempt to connect and bond with one another over such universally unavoidable experiences. The new film Laggies attempts to put a face on the quarter-life crisis in much the same way Garden State did a decade ago, and overall it's a much less cloying and twee look at this phase in life, but it's in many ways the exact same film.
As Megan, Brit Keira Knightley plays that decidedly most American of twenty-something women: the one content to cling to the past rather than accept the realities of the future. Her friends to whom she was so close in high school have all moved on and gotten married or are having children, and Megan seems content to spin a sign by the side of the road for the her father's (Jeff Garlin) tax business. At the wedding of her best friend Allison (Ellie Kemper), Megan's longtime boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) attempts to propose to her, but Megan freaks out and flees the wedding.
Stopping at a grocery store, Megan encounters a group of teenagers who ask her to buy them some alcohol. Desperate to reconnect with her youth, Megan follows through and then clings to the gang for the rest of the night, making a special connection with 16-year old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz). The two then forge a relationship of mutual exploitation that finds Megan posing as Annika's mother for a meeting with a school counselor, and Megan asking Annika if she can crash at her place for a week to basically drop out of society and, presumably, figure out what she wants to do with her life.
The script is both savvy and clever enough to address the obvious problems with a character like Megan doing all of this, but it's also mixed with high doses of whimsy that undercut the honesty of so many moments in the film. There really is no good reason for Annika's single divorce lawyer father Craig (Sam Rockwell) to let Megan stay at their home, but he does, at it sets up a myriad of eye-rolling rom-com contrivances. Megan is an incredibly deceptive person who manages to withhold information from certain individuals long enough to get what she needs from them, and that should be a much more troubling trait for a protagonist than it actually is. Knightley's winning performance makes her faults secondary to her virtues, making Megan a much more likable character that she has any right to be.
Though her inevitable relationship with Craig is projected virtually from minute one, it's both a joy to watch it unfold and a bit foreboding at the same time because we just know that the truth will come out at some point. Though this is a plot device as old as time, it's to the credit of both Knightley and especially Rockwell that it works at all. Rockwell is an utter delight in everything he does, but it's surprisingly nice to see him play a guy that's been dealt a lot of lousy luck in love, yet still clings to the hope that things are going to work out in the end. I hate to sound like a broken record at this point, but if Laggies could have used more of anything, it's Sam Rockwell.
Director Lynn Shelton is a darling of the mumblecore scene, and her films Humpday and Your Sister's Sister, while a welcome departure from the usual masturbatory influences of her contemporaries like The Duplass Brothers and Joe Swanberg, are nonetheless steeped in contrivance. It's disheartening, then, to see her go whole hog toward a story that plays out, almost by the moment, exactly how you expect it to, but as with the rest of her work, her excellent cast helps to elevate the material. In fact, it's really a cop-out for me to say that the film has no right to work, since it's formula has been proven to work countless times in countless other films of this ilk. The best one can hope for from a film like this is that the cast is good enough to make the subpar material work, and thankfully they are.
Laggies is a pleasant diversion, and fans of both Knightley and Rockwell will find the money and time spent in their company well worth it, but much like Garden State, these films suffer from the ever-present specter of The Graduate. That film nailed the quarter-life crisis and gave it an ending worthy of the actual depression faced by the young. Now these films can only hope to uplift and give everyone what they want only after making them learn some harsh lessons about themselves. Laggies is an enjoyable film and it has a lot of good in it, but it hasn't got an original bone in its body, nor does it have a single moment of greatness. I miss the days when films aspired to greatness.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via Box Office Mojo]