Mumblecore practitioner Lynn Shelton goes back to the well of young adults questioning the path their lives have taken in Laggies, but compared to something like Humpday or Your Sister's Sister, this is as mainstream as she's likely to get. I've always considered her lighter than genre compatriots like Noah Baumbach or Nicole Holofcener, and Laggies further solidifies that opinion. Shelton's latest is shooting for wide appeal, and while it unfairly flopped, it remains a film with a lot of life in it.
In her prior, script-driven films, Shelton has had to rely on her actors, and she knows how to get those actors to give good performances. The same is true in Laggies, as the main cast is all able to inhabit their roles convincingly. Knightley is perfectly cast as Megan, a buoyant presence with little patience for sincerity. Her suppressed chuckles at Kemper's overwrought wedding vows and interpretive first dance are completely endearing, and the way she throws herself over her parents' couch implies an act done many times before, and not in her teenager days either. For a character that's willfully not getting her life together, Knightley keeps the viewer from wanting to dismiss her as lazy. Once Megan gets into Annika's house, Rockwell steals the film. His relationship with his daughter is nicely lived-in, especially a running gag involving his box of wine that feels like something Shelton or writer Andrea Siegel has personally experienced. The high school characters avoid the pratfalls of snarkiness or disdain so many other films give characters their age, and while Grace-Moretz is fine, her friend Misty, played by Kaitlyn Dever, is hilarious, brimming with confidence and owning every room she walks into. All the actors have strong chemistry and a nice rapport with each other, making it easy to imagine why Megan would want to be around people so much younger than her, and vice versa.
As a hang-out movie, Laggies is great fun in individual scenes. Thematically, it's tragically simplistic. The film manages to create these recognizable characters but loses respect for them as the movie reaches its ending. Megan and Annika both have a lot of the same problems of indecisiveness and a tendency to perseverate around their real wishes, a twinning that doesn't go anywhere, outside of their romantic interests. Annika is chasing a high school boy, and the crux of her plot revolves around asking him to prom. Her problems in school or deciding what to do in her future are elided in favor of this stock high school kid straight out of central casting. The objects of Megan's affections, Anthony and Craig, give her a real choice, but again, the film ends with her having made a decision about which of them to be with, not what to do with her life. In a presumed epilogue, Megan, having made her romantic choice, goes back to waving signs the next day and her new boyfriend brings her a smoothie. For two of its female characters, the biggest decisions are which man should they be with, and other questions are introduced but not answered.
That reduction of the main character's problems makes Laggies a small film, though one elevated by its performances. Knightley, Rockwell, and Dever are all great, Grace-Moretz continues to make impressive choices at this stage in her career, and personal favorite Kemper successfully tries on a new character. More straight romantic comedy than introspective character piece, it lacks the depth of Shelton's earlier work while retaining the well-drawn characters. If that ending hadn't felt like such a studio cop-out, Shelton would be much better suited to bridge the gaps between the two worlds of mainstream and indie cinema. C+