"Laggies," starring Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, is a lovely lark that provides a lively consideration of the benefits of taking a break from the pressure of keeping up with the twentysomething Joneses.
Directed by Lynn Shelton, with her usual light touch, the film represents a refining moment for a filmmaker who's been interesting from the first time she stepped behind the camera. That was for "My Effortless Brilliance" (2008), a comedy-drama about a wayward writer in search of reconnection. A year later, "Humpday," about a bromance in trouble, began collecting festival awards at Sundance, and it took home the Independent Spirit Award's coveted John Cassavetes prize in 2010. "Your Sister's Sister" with Emily Blunt, Mark Duplass and Rosemarie DeWitt solidified her claim on intimate character studies.
She doesn't stray far from the formula for her latest whimsical drama, but Shelton is more confident than ever. Written by Andrea Seigel in sensitive yet not too serious tones, it tells the story of 28-year-old Megan (Knightley), a certifiable "laggie."
If you don't know what a laggie is, look no further than Megan for the definition. She has a graduate degree but no job beyond sign twirling on street corners to promote her dad's (Jeff Garlin) very mainstream accounting business. All her high school besties are getting married or are already there with children. And she has a shiny new engagement ring from her high-school sweetheart (Mark Webber), whose biggest flaw is oversharing.
Her lack of success isn't as hard to deal with as the expectations of friends, family and fiancé. Megan's not sure she wants any of it, anyway.
So what's a laggie to do when reality bites? Run away. At least for a little while.
The film is set in Seattle, which feels like an excellent place to lag guilt free, with its picturesque, hipster vibe, even in the suburbs. Director of cinematography Ben Kasulke's spare shooting suits the meandering pace. Whether it was lighting or luck, "Laggies'" Seattle is bathed in warm sun, rather than dreary clouds or rain. Yet another signal that the mood swings are likely to be relatively even keel.
A career-reboot retreat serves as a ruse for Megan to get away. It's enough to buy a week to sort through her feelings about her fiancé and the rest. It also sets the stage for low-key conflict resolution, laggie-style. For Megan, that means retreating into being a teen again, and we all know how good high school kids are at conflict resolution.
Crashing with Annika (Moretz), a teen she bought beer for one night, opens up a world of possibilities. The chemistry between the two seems effortless as they pass the "who's the grown-up torch" between them, with Moretz turning in another finely calibrated performance.
The film is sly in the way it plays with the age difference between them. Moretz has an interesting blend of ingenue and old soul about her. As to Knightley, her slight, boyish frame helps. But it's also the way the actress is making herself at home in lighter films, like the delightful "Begin Again," from earlier this summer, in which she spends her time navigating the New York music scene with Mark Ruffalo.
You almost forget that the actress made her mark in serious period pieces playing trussed-up women — "Pride & Prejudice" (2005), which earned her an Oscar nomination, and "Atonement," in 2007, for example. With the coming "The Imitation Game" opposite Benedict Cumberbatch, the pair of them code-crackers caught up in British spy intrigues circa World War II, it seems she's achieving a nice balance between dark and light.
The friendship between Annika and Megan flowers in ways that help Megan begin to step into the role of adult. A budding romance with Annika's dad, Craig (Rockwell, a rock as always), forces the issue of where her affections lie.
As is often the case with Shelton projects, the dilemmas in "Laggies" are complicated, and not.
The director is increasingly adept at getting her actors to bask in emotions without any pretensions. It makes for easy watching. Seigel's breezy script makes the dialogue easy listening.
Even digging into potentially life-altering areas presents nothing that can't be overcome. You find yourself caring about little things, like whether Megan will ever be able to master flipping a skateboard. Or what she'll wear to prom. ...
It's not that the choices Megan must make are easy ones. It's the realization that even if you're a laggie, your problems come right along with you. And the particular problems in "Laggies," small scale and personal, are the kind that the director knows exactly how to handle.
MPAA rating: R for language, some sexual material and teen partying
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes