In the buoyant and kind “Laggies,” a woman nearing 30 realizes she isn’t ready for marriage or godparenthood or even a job that requires getting dressed in the morning. But Lynn Shelton‘s sixth film doesn’t just perform a simple gender reversal on the arrested-development trope; it might very well represent the trope’s apotheosis. Shelton’s comedy isn’t just smart, but cheerfully wise; not just funny, but cleverly and endlessly so.
“Laggies” explores with empathy and warmth the simultaneous feelings of panic and disbelief upon realizing in your late 20s or early 30s that everyone around you is getting married and having children. Twenty-eight-year-old Seattleite Megan (Keira Knightley) isn’t single, but judging from her terror at her longtime boyfriend Anthony’s (Mark Webber) proposal, she isn’t exactly in love with coupledom, either.
Unlike the dozens of manchild romps that liken settling down to castration, “Laggies” insightfully offers Megan a valid reason to say yes via sensible friend Allison (a square but never shrill Ellie Kemper): she’d otherwise miss out on going through important life events with the rest of her pals, all of whom she’s known since her Celine Dion-belting high-school days.
But Megan didn’t get to where she is — twirling a sign on the street for her indulgent dad (Jeff Garlin) and eating pizza every day — by succumbing to peer pressure. She flees with Anthony’s ring to a liquor store, where she reluctantly buys 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) some booze, then spends the night hanging out with the high-schooler and her knucklehead friends. When Annika calls her the next day for a favor, Megan asks for one of her own: to stay with the teen and her divorced dad Craig (Sam Rockwell) for a week while she sorts out what to do about her future.
Megan doesn’t have to try very hard to relate to Annika and her BFF Misty (a terse but hilarious Kaitlyn Dever), but she also falls into a breezy rapport with Craig. Rockwell plays his typecast but always welcome role, that of the quick-witted nice guy. It’s impossible not to like Craig when he’s trying so damn hard to make being a single dad to a teenage girl as fun for himself as possible.
Andrea Seigel’s wonderful script makes Craig a suburban romantic hero, as well as a thoroughly believable dude. Walking home from an impromptu trip to the bar with Megan, he grabs her trenchcoat and pulls her to him for a lingering first kiss, then draws back: “Maybe you should take my daughter’s t-shirt off. It’s a little creepy.”
Moretz is refreshing as a regular teen, and Gretchen Mol shines in a small role as Annika’s mom, who abandoned her family years ago. “There’s no such thing as ‘the cool mom,’” she obliquely explains, and spontaneously hands her daughter a gift that’s touchingly girly but also inappropriate enough to justify her absence from Annika’s life.
But of course this is Knightley’s movie, and she’s a loose-limbed revelation as a pretty-but-normal-looking woman who just can’t take things seriously enough to pull her life together. The movie’s partly on her side, too, admitting that adulthood demands respect for, or at the very least feigned interest in, a lot of truly dumb things, like bachelorette parties.
When shown a Buddha statue with giant nipples sticking rigidly out of its chest at Allison’s new restaurant, Megan gives them a playful twist to her friend’s offended disapproval. (Megan smartly points out that if Allison were really culturally sensitive, she wouldn’t use Buddha as restaurant decoration.)
“Laggies” isn’t quite the similarly winsome raunchfest that “Bridesmaids” was, but it does give Knightley plenty of opportunities to use the kind of earthy language verboten in her Regency-era projects. Knightley’s delightfully uncouth here, as are the nasal inflections she uses to make Megan a little whiny all the time, even when she’s in a good mood.
Toward the end of the film, we discover at least part of the reason why Megan has stalled for so long, and it’s a smart critique of how some young people are set up to fail by the “right” paths to success. Though it doesn’t seem intended as a grand pronouncement about young people today, “Laggies” feels relevant and full of intelligent observations about life transitions and parent-child relationships.
And if this is the kind of project that arises from Knightley’s recent declaration that she’s foresworn period films for the time being, don’t let anyone put her in a corset ever again.