For too long, men have like Seth Rogen have dominated the “adult child” comedy market, as if women were impervious to the comedic charms of being ludicrously immature twenty-somethings. Thankfully, along comes ‘Laggies’ to set things right with a central character so lost that even Rogen and his entire crop of man-children would urge her to grow the hell up immediately.
The lost lady in question is Megan (Keira Knightley). She’s one of those girls for whom life peaked in high school, so she went out of her way to never expand beyond that experience. She still lives with her high school boyfriend (Mark Webber), though at this point it’s more out of convenience and fond memories than love. She also still hangs out with all of her old high school friends, but now they’re all getting married and not really into her twin loves of partying and potty humor quite as much. Her father (Jeff Garlin) spoils her every chance he gets to further stunt development.
Megan’s life comes to a head when she catches her father cheating at a wedding and runs away for booze. She ends up stumbling upon a group of high school kids led by Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), agrees to buy them beer, and then spends the night hanging out with them. From there, Megan becomes best buds with Annika because the mature high school student and deeply immature adult are on the same wavelength. Megan even talks Annika into letting her crash at her house for a week to avoid attending a personal development seminar. Their plot is foiled by Annika’s clever, caring and wise-cracking father (Sam Rockwell). At first, the dad is understandably confused as to why a theoretically grown woman would want to be friends with his teenage daughter, but he grows to like Megan almost instantly. Maybe even a little too much.
‘Laggies’ comes from mumblecore director Lynn Shelton (‘Your Sister’s Sister‘, ‘Touchy Feely‘) rather than one of the expected Judd Apatow disciples, which means that the outlandish premise is played fairly straight. Obviously, the comedy of immaturity and age-gap gags are part of Shelton’s cocktail, but that’s not the movie’s sole purpose. Shelton plays Knightley’s character as real rather than as a living sight gag. As a result, she becomes a troubled and conflicted protagonist.
While the movie might present itself as a goof (and indeed is quite funny), Shelton’s take on refusing to accept adulthood is surprisingly poignant and, particularly during the inevitably weepy third act, explores her themes truthfully and insightfully. The filmmaker picked a popular mainstream comedy genre and has milked it for all of the hidden human tragedy at the core. Shelton doesn’t plays her hand too quickly, though. The film’s visual style is bright and perky, while the plot plays as pure comedy off the top before gradually emerging into something more complicated. That’s Shelton’s specialty as a filmmaker, and even if ‘Laggies’ isn’t her funniest or most moving movie to date, it’s probably her most accessible.
The movie also boasts an almost unfair charm factor based on the cast alone. Shelton’s greatest gift as a filmmaker is her skill with actors, and ‘Laggies’ is certainly no exception to that rule. Knightley gets to show off her chops in a wonderfully complex comedic role that constantly teeters on the edge of tragedy. She’s wise enough not to play up the humor, instead committing to the reality of the role and letting the laughs and cringes slide in. Moretz is also far more naturalistic and warm here than she’s been in her entire post-‘Kick Ass’/’Let Me In’ career, which comes down primarily to the fact that she’s finally been given a character that feels like a real person and responds in kind. The best part of the film is undoubtedly Sam Rockwell, who in a particularly Sam Rockwellian turn transforms what could have been a typical “good dad” role into a Michael Keaton-esque manic explosion of jokes, charm, and neurosis. Whenever Rockwell and Knightley share the screen, ‘Laggies’ bursts to life and starts to feel like it might be something more than a low-key comedy about accepting adulthood.
It’s not more than that, though. Despite all of the major talent involved, this is ultimately a pretty simple film about very popular themes. It doesn’t add much to the genre that hasn’t been said, yet it’s executed so well by such a wonderful group of collaborators that you likely won’t even notice until you’re wandering home from the theater with a big dopey grin on your face.