My Favorite Movies – Laggies (2014)

10 Mar

By Tanner Smith

The American indie film scene felt a tragic loss in 2020 with the passing of filmmaker Lynn Shelton. Her entries in the “mumblecore” micro-budget film movement (such as “My Effortless Brilliance” and “Humpday”) made a unique impression. Everyone associated with her (including frequent collaborator Mark Duplass, who himself was a name in “mumblecore”–that’s the last time I use that word, I apologize) remember her as a lively presence that couldn’t be matched. And what’s more inspiring is that while the indie film scene was (and still is for the most part) predominantly “young” (most of the new filmmakers are in their 20s), she made her first film near the age of 40–that is a message that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams. She also improved upon her career with more films with bigger name actors, more prospects and resources, and a lot of television work–and it all seemed to really suit her fine.

While I could be writing about her most infamous film, “Humpday,” which gets better the more I watch it, I’m instead going to write about the 2014 comedy-drama “Laggies,” which she directed. “Laggies” is one of the most approachable of indie films: a happy medium between “indie” and “mainstream”–popular actors playing real characters in a down-to-earth setting with doses of comedy to level the insecurities the characters face. (Other examples include the Duplass brothers’ “Cyrus” and “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”) In this case, it’s a coming-of-age tale involving Keira Knightley as an aimless 20something that finds her way with help from a high-school senior and her dad (the kid and her dad are played by Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell–when you can afford talent like this in a grounded story like this, you’re already doing well for yourself).

And I love it.

While Shelton didn’t write the screenplay (that distinction goes to novelist Andrea Siegel), it still has the distinct feel of a Lynn Shelton project. (And again, for a dip into the mainstream, this is a very good thing–she showed here what she could do with more money and more collaboration.) The dialogue doesn’t feel totally scripted; the characters feel real; the comedy doesn’t feel forced; and it feels like something Lynn Shelton would make to show what else she could do outside the (*sigh* I’m sorry) mumblecore field.

Keira Knightley, doing an admirable job hiding her English accent, plays Megan, an aimless 28-year-old living in Seattle. She twirls a sign for her father’s (Jeff Garlin) tax office, she’s in a relationship with her high-school sweetheart (Mark Webber), and she’s still very close to her high-school friends. It seems something is off in her relationships; even when she cracks jokes around her friends, she feels like the odd one out as hers don’t land with them. (There’s also a moment in which she just walks into her parents’ house to chill and watch TV, something that her father is totally fine with but her mother is confused by.) And she clearly likes her boyfriend if they’ve been together for so long, but when he proposes to her…she doesn’t know how to react or what to feel.

Megan flees, needing time to think, and that’s when she meets a group of high-schoolers who are outside a liquor store and ask her to buy booze for them. After doing so (hey it’s a rite of passage, right?), Megan joins the teens for a night out and sparks a connection with one of them, named Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz). (The other teens are distinct and well-played by Kaitlyn Dever, Dylan Arnold, and Daniel Zovatto.) This is a good night for Megan–these kids aren’t judging her; they’re accepting her for who she is.

Megan spends more time with Annika and meets her single-parent lawyer father Craig, played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell–Rockwell in this role reminds me of his memorable, wisecracking, energized character in “The Way, Way Back” if he matured a little more. Megan is hiding out from friends and family to figure things out, but her story for staying with Annika and Craig is that her apartment lease expired before she has to move somewhere else. (Good enough, I guess.) Annika confides in her and Craig gradually trusts her–they even have a deeper connection they probably expected. But soon enough, the truth is going to have to come out and Megan will have to make tough decisions for her life…

Let’s talk a little about that, because the more times I watch “Laggies,” the more fascinating the subtext becomes. I’ve seen many movies that tackle arrested development and the reluctance of some people to embrace the future…but with “Laggies,” it’s a little more complicated than that. When the film begins, we’re inclined to see Megan as living in the past, seeing her high-school years as the best of her life. She and her friends are growing up together, but she seems like the odd one out. Something is different…but it doesn’t become clear what that is until midway through the film, when one of her friends (Ellie Kemper) confronts her for not being a part of the plan. What plan? Well, it’s the plan they all made as graduating high-school kids–to do everything together, do the normal, boring, everyday-life thing together, and whatever. Megan’s stasis is not from the fear of growing up; it’s from the fear of being held back by something much less than what she herself wants. That’s why these teenagers are like a breath of fresh air to her–they have all these possibilities lined up for them, and she wants to feel that way again.

It’s a very intriguing and innovative concept for this kind of film, and it’s handled beautifully–Megan isn’t the one living in the past; her friends are, and they’re trying to drag her down with them. So now she needs to decide what she’s going to do next.

With Lynn Shelton’s empathetic direction, Andrea Siegel’s layered screenplay, and solid performances from Knightley and Rockwell, “Laggies” is a terrific reminder that maturity is something that can be attained, whether you realize it or not, however old you are, or even whether or not you recognize if you already have it. Much credit for this well-earned message goes to the late, great filmmaker Lynn Shelton. She jumped at the opportunity for a career when other people might tell her it’s too late, she learned and grew from each project, and she left a terrific legacy. (By the way, check out “Humpday” if you haven’t already–that film’s a treasure. I also highly recommend others she made, such as “Your Sister’s Sister” and “Outside In.”)

And she will always be missed.

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