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'Laggies' Goes with Its Gut

'Laggies'—Dir. Lynn Shelton (A24)—3 Stars

Megan (Keira Knightley) is in a bit of a rut. Megan is a “Laggie”—a person well into adulthood still desperately clinging to some semblance of youth and the lack of responsibility that accompanies it. But it’s only after half-heartedly agreeing to marry her milquetoast high school sweetheart that Megan realizes she needs a vacation from the mounting pressure of her life. Enter Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz), a rebellious teen in search of someone to buy her booze but in need of a role model. The two cross paths, and after a single night of debauchery, Megan decides to move in with her underage new friend and her attractive divorcé father in order to sort out her priorities, like any sane 20-something would. Cute? Sure. Slightly disturbing? Definitely. But while Lynn Shelton’s “Laggies” could pass as an exercise in immaturity, even insanity, Knightley’s utter commitment to her role steers the film away from the far-fetched. “Laggies” is a charming, breezy picture that, despite its gradual descent into cliché, is bolstered by Knightley and a bevy of other strong performances.

Director Lynn Shelton’s films are quiet, often humorous meditations on human connection, dissecting and celebrating the inherent complexity and protean nature of relationships. Her critically acclaimed past efforts, including “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister,” possess improv-heavy scripts and minimalistic performances that elevate their realism. However, “Laggies,” Shelton’s sixth film, differs in one aspect: not only is this the first movie Shelton didn’t write, but it’s also novelist Andrea Seigel’s first attempt at penning a screenplay. The results are mixed: while “Laggies” retains a number of typical Shelton motifs—a Pacific Northwest setting, subdued cinematography, and, to Seigel’s credit, strikingly natural dialogue—the film gradually relinquishes Shelton’s singular voice for a more universal, trite story. The events of the entire second half of the film are, for the most part, unsurprising, and they occasionally verge on schmaltzy: at its nadir, “Laggies” could pass for a mediocre Disney Channel Original Movie, a far cry from Shelton’s trademark indie edge.

Luckily for “Laggies,” Keira Knightley’s captivating performance buoys the film, preventing it from drowning in predictability. Having gained both credibility and a myriad of awards playing posh nobility (“The Duchess,” “Anna Karenina”), it’s refreshing to watch Knightley perfectly capture characters at the opposite end of the spectrum: puckish ingénues, both here and in last year’s “Begin Again.” The film serves as a testament to Knightley’s unexpected range as an actress, a vehicle for her infectious charm. As Megan, a flurry of bony limbs and facial expressions conveying a wealth of emotion, she oozes charisma. From nonchalantly twisting the nipples of a Buddha statue to attempting to feed a tortoise presumed to have an eating disorder, Knightley unabashedly throws herself into the character and embraces her idiosyncrasies, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

Moretz uses her full capabilities as an actress to play Annika. Granted, she has essentially three acting techniques—satisfied grunt, concerned grunt, and snarl—so the performance is passable at best. However, she develops an easy rapport with Knightley early on, and their friendly dynamic renders the film infinitely more watchable. And the always reliable Sam Rockwell doesn’t disappoint; he manages to craft a character who is simultaneously cynical, defeated, and utterly endearing. Knightley and Rockwell possess an undeniable chemistry, and though Shelton’s reliance on typical rom-com ploys renders the trajectory of their budding relationship frustratingly predictable, the palpable tension between the two keeps the audience engaged.

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Laggies
Chloë Grace Moretz and Keira Knightley star in "Laggies."

Throughout the film, Megan frets over whether she’s “floating”—that her latent fear of straying from the familiar inhibits her from taking control of her own life. By the film’s conclusion, however, it’s clear Megan grounds herself—at least partially—in reality, musing, “You can’t keep putting aside what you want for some imaginary future; you just got to go with your gut.” Unlike its protagonist, “Laggies” has a clear direction from its shaky home-video opening and is perfectly content with another sort of “floating.” From scenes still rich with untapped comedic potential to a final third packed with ephemeral conflicts that resolve themselves within minutes, “Laggies” skims over several opportunities to delve deeper into the material and form insights in an original manner. Though this relative shallowness occasionally disappoints, the film deserves credit for fully embracing its own whimsy. Like Megan herself, “Laggies” has clear flaws and bears them with pride.

—Contributing writer Shaun V. Gohel can be reached at sgohel@college.harvard.edu.

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