I 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.
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.