Film Review: How ‘Laggies’ Loses Focus

LaggiesI like Sam Rockwell. I really do. I would watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Moon over the better-known Adaptation and 2001 any day. And no one has ever played a fodder crewmember better than Rockwell did in Galaxy Quest. But his character Craig is not a realistic panacea for Keira Knightley’s Megan in the new Lynn Shelton movie Laggies. Nor is the emphasis on Rockwell’s character ultimately good for the quirky, bursting-with-potential comedy.

Laggies begins in a rather derivative manner. Megan is 28 and has no clue what she wants to do with her life. While her old high school friends are getting married and opening businesses and having babies, Megan seems stuck with nice-guy boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber), who has been sort of dragging his feet on their relationship for ten years. But several sudden events early on shake up Megan’s world and she has to flee her life for a while to get her head straight. If I’m not mistaken, this is pretty close to the way Friends began, and early on, Laggies does run the risk of creeping into sitcom territory.

But then, the brilliant twist occurs. Megan meets up with a group of teenagers, including Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz). When Megan needs to hide out for a week to think about her future, she moves in with Annika. This is where Laggies is at its best. Megan is only slightly removed from what Annika and her friends are experiencing. She both mentors and learns from them. Shelton and screenwriter Andrea Siegel play with both the differences and the surprising similarities between a 28 year old and a 16 year old to great effect. Of course, it helps to have Knightley at her charmingly messed-up best, and it is always a good idea to feature Moretz as much as possible. Despite some script contrivances, she is able to play a teenager who might actually exist on this planet, unlike the overly precious or insanely destructive teens to which we are usually treated in American film.

Unfortunately, the movie shifts focus in the second half away from this intriguing relationship to the more generic love story between Megan and Annika’s divorced father Craig. Rockwell does as well as he can with the role, and to be honest, it’s a pretty good role at that. It’s just wrong for this movie. It becomes a predictable love story instead of the quirky double coming-of-age story that it might have been.  Worst of all, it leads to a contrived ending which completely sells out the earlier spirit.

Contrivance is pretty obvious in the plot of Laggies. Megan’s parents are divorced. Megan’s friend Patrick’s parents are going through a divorce. One of the things that sets Megan off early on is catching her father engaged in a make-out session with a woman other than his wife. All this comes about as she is deciding whether to marry her long-time boyfriend. We get it – love is uncertain at best. Then there is the convenience of the Prom, which is a pretty obvious setting for a climax. First of all, the teenage girls all seem to buy their dresses the day before the Prom, which seems a little far-fetched to me (but is necessary because Megan has to be there with them and she has only known them for a week). When Annika’s friend Misty drops by to see Megan and tells this 28 year old woman that she has to go to the Prom or it will destroy Annika, you pretty much see a screenplay and not realistic characters.

Laggies

Chloë Grace Moretz and Keira Knightley in ‘Laggies’

But the plot contrivances are easy to look past due to all the good stuff from both the screenplay and the actors. What is harder to look past is the resolution, and here, as you might expect, I have to issue a spoiler alert. Megan ends up ditching Anthony and the ties to her immature past that he represents, in favour of Craig and his promise of … what? It would be nice to believe that pairing off with Craig would benefit Megan but there is nothing in the actual text beyond some sexual chemistry and wishful thinking that suggests this will be the case. Megan is just as lost as she was when the story began. She may be freeing herself from old expectations, but what are her new ones? She is merely replacing one boyfriend with another. Craig is probably something of an upgrade over Anthony, but even that is debatable. The two men really aren’t very different. The question is whether these experiences will leave Megan better able to have an adult relationship and an adult life. I’ve read enough self-help columns to believe that she might be better off eschewing any boyfriend for a little while, at least until she gains a better understanding of who she is. And I think she would have a better chance of gaining such understanding by spending a little more time with Annika and her friends, instead of hanging out with Craig. And, remember, I say that as a self-admitted Sam Rockwell fan.

Lynn Shelton has made several promising films but is still waiting for a real breakthrough.  Her 2009 movie Humpday is similar to Laggies in that it takes a quirky premise and runs with it up to a point. She never found a satisfying way to end Humpday. In Laggies, she loses focus on what is most interesting. Both come close to being very good offbeat comedies, and I suspect it won’t take her too many more tries before she really nails one.

Jonathan Eig has taught Screenwriting and Film History at Montgomery College (MD) for the past ten years. In that capacity, he has hosted the popular Montgomery College Film Series at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, MD. He has been a regular contributor on Huffington Post and his writing about film can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jon-eig/.

12 thoughts on “Film Review: How ‘Laggies’ Loses Focus

  1. The losing focus idea seems more like a pandemic more than a specific problem with this movie. Maybe it’s always been this way and I just never had the focus to notice, but I would say that’s my first complaint about everything that isn’t just obviously awful right now.

    • I suppose you could say that about lots of stories that seem interesting and then go in a direction you don’t like. When I think back on the movies I liked but didn’t love from 2014, there are a lot that seem to lose direction somewhere in the middle. Whether it’s Noah turning into an action picture with the Tubal Cain character, or Chef turning into a feel-good love fest in which all conflict vanishes, or Dear White People trying to cram too many coincidental subplots into its really compelling premise, I guess “lose focus” could apply to many of them.

  2. Hello Jon,

    Thank you for once again standing up for the idea that film characters might occasionally be expected to behave just a bit like real people every now and again.

    What strikes me, however, is that, once again, a gorgeous 20 something female hottie takes up with a middle-aged male schlub. That this tired and omnipresent male fantasy cliche was perpetrated by a woman director makes this all the more depressing.

    I have no particular feeling for Sam Rockwell either way (although I think Confessions may be the only thing I’ve seen him in. . .) but yes, Chloe Grace Moretz is the bomb and Knightley gets braver with every role. She has this coiled energy combined with a wicked sense of humor that I just love. . .

    • Thanks Nancy. Woman director and a woman screenwriter. It really felt like this was going to avoid the trap you identify. As I’ve felt the need to say several times now, the reason that this is so disappointing is that, despite the flaws, there is some very good material here. I’m curious now to see Shelton’s debut, a very similar premise called We Go Way Back from 2006..

  3. Agree with you on Sam Rockwell, John–he can be brilliant (Moon, Galaxy Quest), though like all actors, he needs good material and direction to elicit his best performances (I thought he was horrid in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I’m also a fan of the book). This film looks quite disappointing, considering the talent involved. Maybe next time Shelton will live up to her potential.

    • Thanks Simon. I wonder if I wasn’t being too hard on the movie in general. One of the reasons it is so frustrating is that there is some very good material in it. The encouraging thing is that Shelton is finding a way to get her movies made, which in this day and age is a feat in and of itself for an independent female director.

  4. I hadn’t caught up with this one Jon, and after your thoughtful review, I doubt that I ever will. It sounds exactlty like the sort of film I don’t like, so thanks for the ‘warning’.
    Regards from England, Pete.

Leave a Reply