'Laggies' review: Knightley, Rockwell save this clunky dramedy
The dramatic-comedy swipe at rudderless "gen-xers" has is propped up by a sympathetic director and strong key performances - but dragged down questionable plot points and thin supporting characters.
In short: Freaked out by her boyfriend's marriage proposal, unambitious twenty-something Megan (Keira Knightley) decides to hide from her friends, family and obligations for a week at the home of 16-year-old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) and Annika's divorced and cynical father (Sam Rockwell). (Watch the trailer)
The latest from indie director Lynn Shelton is a likable, if structurally flawed, little story populated with many thin/one-dimensional characters but blessed by a funny, charming script.
First of all, "Laggies" has a little too much going on to allow its characters and plot to develop a single, cohesive and rich plot. A story about a woman in her late 20s, stuck in the mire of arrested development, is one thing - but intertwining that premise with the unnecessary plot of Megan crashing at Annika's house only clutters up the movie. Throw in a weird, underdeveloped arch for Annika involving some boy and a weak b-plot involving Megan's parents and the result is a movie that trips over its mounting pile of sitcom-ish plot elements.
Luckily, Shelton's compassionate direction allows Megan to always remain a character worth rooting for - even if she is, on the whole, a very selfish character. On paper, Maggie - who lies to her boyfriend and abandons her life and friends to hang out with a teenager - is a sad, pathetic character. But Shelton manages Megan's story in a manner always sympathetic to her pre-midlife crisis.
Knightley and Rockwell are especially effective in their two very different roles. Knightley gives the indecisive Megan a relateable quality that makes her sometimes short-sighted decisions understandable. Rockwell's love weary and wry divorce lawyer to witty and cautious - a difficult tight rope for any actor to achieve.
A main flaw is "Laggies" is a oddly a plot driven drama - where critical plot points occur, conveniently, at just the right moments. Plot by convenient coincidence - such as characters repeatedly popping up at just the right moment to catch poor decisions being made - is the saddest method to push/force narratives forward.
Megan's supporting characters - her boyfriend (Mark Webber) and best friend (Ellie Kemper) since high school - are tragically one-dimensional and transparent characters. Unfortunately, they also important characters who embody the life Megan feels mired in - so their limited characterization also robs dimension from Megan's dilemma. They are simple characters who create a simple problem for Megan - which saps any genuine conflict or dramatic tension from the story. They are so relentlessly stuck in high school or outright judgmental that Megan's final choice isn't just predictable - any other resolution would be false. Even Grace Moretz's character pretty much serves as little more than an excuse for Megan to runaway - and Annika's odd b-plots involving her neglectful mom and a high school crush don't add anything significant to the film.
Final verdict: "Laggies" is overall likable due to its warm script and strong leading performances - and it's despite a weak supporting set of characters and cluttered narrative.
"Laggies" hits theaters nationwide Oct. 24 and is rated R for language, some sexual material and teen partying.