By Marshall Shaffer
Two years ago, I placed my money on Lynn Shelton to lead the charge of bringing the mumblecore movement to the mainstream. After seeing “Laggies,” however, I may want to switch my bet to Joe Swanberg.
That is not to imply Shelton’s latest feature indicates a decline in the quality of her output; “Laggies” is certainly a recovery since she sputtered last year with the deservedly little-seen “Touchy Feely.” Moreover, it is probably her most accessible (or marketable) film to date. But in order to achieve that, Shelton has not adapted or modified the movement from which she arose. She has essentially dispersed of it all together.
The only part of “Laggies” that remains in the mumblecore tradition is its protagonist, Keira Knightley’s Megan. She’s a spiritual cousin of Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha and Lena Dunham’s Aura from “Tiny Furniture,” a confused and commitment-phobic upper-middle-class millennial twentysomething ambling haplessly through the best years of her life. She clearly does not love her boyfriend (Mark Webber, yet she lacks the decisiveness to reject his advances towards marriage. She invested in post-graduate education, but she prefers the lack of responsibility that comes from sign-twirling for her father (Jeff Garlin).
Knightley nails the generational milieu of indirection and indecision, so it is too bad that the rest of “Laggies” could not be nearly as interesting as her. Shelton, working from a screenplay by Andrea Seigel, steers the film quickly into the realm of standard-issue chick flicks and rom-coms. Once she lays the cards on the table, it becomes pretty clear where the film will go – although I did hold out hope that there might be a subversive or original twist to spruce things up a bit.
The film’s inciting incident occurs when – after running away from her friend’s wedding as well as her own boyfriend’s impending proposal – Megan indulges the desperate alcohol pandering of a teenage faction led by Chloë Grace Moretz’s Annika. She also leaves the door open for the prospect of further interaction, a curious choice that “Laggies” grounds in Megan’s struggle with adulthood. There is definitely an undeniable appeal to feeling relevant to the youthful when the demands of maturity gnaw away at one’s own youth.
This keen perception makes Megan and Annika’s improbable and potentially inappropriate friendship feel very real. Their age difference is not small enough to make them peers but hardly big enough to allow Megan a maternal dynamic. That all changes, though, when she meets Annika’s single father, the ultimate dorky dad Craig (Sam Rockwell). All it takes is one conversation to see where their relationship will head.
Still, “Laggies” delights along the way thanks to the amusing script and Knightley’s always-game performance. The movie also provides a great showcase for Lynn Shelton if she ever wants to helm larger films, and Hollywood really ought to come calling given the pathetic gender gap in the director’s chair. It is just slightly regrettable that in order to achieve this success, she had to sacrifice so much of what has made her prior work so unique and vital.
Laggies is running through Thursday at a/perture Cinema. You can find showtimes and tickets HERE.