If “The Laggies” has two things going for it — it’s a relatable theme and a home run of a cast. But if it has a fault, it’s the failure to make those strong elements work.
The theme is nothing new. Director Lynn Shelton’s protagonist, played by Keira Knightley, is struggling to figure out what to do with her life when most of her peers have figured things out. Knightley plays a 28-year-old loafer named Megan. Megan is 10 years removed from high school, has a graduate degree in counseling and has been in a committed live-in relationship with her high school sweetheart (Ken Webber) for several years. Yet for some reason she is content to stand on a street corner during the day waving a sign for her father’s business but only on the days her mother doesn’t catch her playing hooky to watch TV at their place.
The character is a stretch.
Early on, inspired by the marriage of one of their other high school friends, Megan’s boyfriend pops the question, but instead of relating to her shock, the audience asks, “Why would anyone want to marry someone like her?”
Stunned by this proposal, Megan flees to the local grocery store, where she befriends a group of teens after they convince her to buy them some wine. The leader of the teens is Annika (Chloe Moretz), a disgruntled youth who is living with her father (Craig, played by Sam Rockwell) since her mother made tracks years ago. In order to buy some time while she ponders her relationship with her boyfriend, Megan (the 28-year-old) talks Annika (the teenager) into letting her crash at her dad’s place.
It’s the kind of scenario that might work as a slapstick comedy, but the film’s serious tone just leaves the audience asking too many pertinent questions. Especially when Craig winds up in a relationship with Megan the grown woman who works as a signpost and hangs out with his teenage daughter.
It’s possible that Shelton put a little too much faith in Knightley’s charm, and you can’t really blame her. Knightley isn’t exactly a lightweight in the acting department, and neither is Moretz, depending on whether you interpret her delivery as “wise beyond her years” or “know it all.” But at least in “The Laggies,” Knightley’s character is just too unlikable to suspend disbelief. She’s immature, dishonest and oblivious. Not exactly the kind of girl who should be fighting off so many clear-thinking male leads. Speaking of which, the most likable character by far is Rockwell, whose turn in last year’s “The Way Way Back,” also a Sundance feature, was the highlight of a fantastic film. But that just makes his misdirected affections all the more unbelievable.
To its credit, “The Laggies” does feature one subplot that demonstrates some maturity, even if it comes in response to an immature act. Early in the film, Megan catches her father in an act of infidelity, and his response later on is a pleasant, level-headed surprise. But it’s just not enough. The character behaviors in “The Laggies” may be explained away by human weakness, but they just aren’t likable to care about. The film started with a couple of nice ideas and a fantastic cast but just couldn’t put the pieces together. It’s too bad, really.
“The Laggies” was not rated at the time of its screening but will most likely receive an R for profanity, along with some sexual content.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.