[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Laggies opens today in limited release.]
There is certain kind of movie that I would describe as a “Sundance Comedy”. They’re technically indie films even though they feature movie stars, and they’re almost always fairly tame. They’re cute at best and forgettable at worst, and Lynn Shelton’s Laggies has the distinction of being both. What begins as a moderately interesting coming-of-age tale eventually devolves into something so light and airy that it’s on the verge of floating away, especially when the characters’ implausible actions do nothing to keep the story grounded.
Megan (Keira Knightley) and her high school friends are still best buds ten years after graduating, but Megan feels like she’s started to drift away from them and her high school sweetheart, Anthony (Mark Webber). Their friends are getting married and having kids, and Megan is still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. During a trip to the store to buy rose pedals for her friend’s bridal suite, Megan meets Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), and feels a kinship with the teenager. Megan, eager to take a break from the pressures of adulthood, moves in with Annika for a week, and strikes up an unlike relationship with Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell), although it’s under the pretense that Megan is waiting to move into a new apartment.
The movie has a nice hook as we see Megan, despite being immature, marvel at her friends’ lacks of self-awareness. The implication is that even when you think you’re growing up, you’re still making dumb decisions that you’ll like regret such as a dumb dance at a wedding or a terrible baby name. Her friends may be going through a maturity checklist, but wisdom hasn’t come with age. But Megan doesn’t even want to move forward. She’s choosing to hit the pause button on her life, and her “personal growth” consists of emotionally supporting Annika and connecting with Craig while warm music plays in the background.
This is how you make a typical Sundance Comedy. You don’t play for raucous laughs, you keep it cute, set up an obvious conflict that will inevitably cause the protagonist to get serious about his or her life, make sure you have charming, recognizable actors, and voila! Welcome to Sundance. Would you like to play in our Premieres category? Indie films have the freedom to challenge their audience, but films like Laggies never take advantage of that freedom, and their “indie” label basically means, “Our actors worked for scale.”
Shelton isn’t obligated to challenge her audience, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with making a light and cute movie, but it at least needs to hold up to modest scrutiny. We’re left to believe that a father, who’s a smart lawyer, will let a complete stranger into his house for a week because she’s a friend of his teenage daughter. Megan is incredibly cute and charming, but a responsible father, which Craig appears to be, would in all likelihood say, “You can stay in a hotel,” and remain wary as to why a woman in her late twenties wants to hang out a teenager.
As the movie strays further from anything resembling reality, it becomes less interesting. It becomes more enamored with its cutesy plot and forcing relationships, and while it remains occasionally entertaining, it also becomes more forgettable. Shelton loses the thread of Megan at least trying to be an adult, and instead starts supporting the preposterous notion that perhaps it’s not so odd to replace your old high school friends with new high school friends. But an emotional truth is rarely the highest priority of a Sundance coming-of-age comedy. It’s better to play it safe, play it quirky, and hope the actors make it charming. Laggies meets these criteria, but the criteria has rarely been rewarding.