Lynn Shelton’s Laggies constitutes cringe comedy at its finest. The characters and situations are certainly cringe-worthy (and sometimes contrived), but the unease the audience feels comes from Shelton and her cast’s remarkable tendency towards realism within awkward situations. There’s a refreshing sense of naturalism that allows this comedy of a struggling twentysomething feel more like a character piece than a standardized and forgettable piece of American independent cinema.
Megan (Kiera Knightley) has reached the point in her life where friends are starting to get married and take their lives seriously. She still twirls a sign on the curb outside of her dad’s CPA business and generally flows through life with little to no ambition. Her high school sweetheart (Mark Webber) wants to get married as soon as possible, suggesting they elope to Vegas one weekend. Wanting some time to herself, she lies and says she’s going to a self-help seminar, when really she plans on secretly crashing at the home of a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) that she has befriended and helped out a few times. The girl’s single, divorce attorney father (Sam Rockewell) finds out Megan’s plans, and the two begin a meet-cute styled friendship and attraction.
Once Rockwell enters the picture – bringing with him the same amount of good will that he always brings to a production – first time feature screenwriter Andrea Seigel’s material starts to get predictable. The first third of the film where Megan tries to hold onto her lazy lifestyle and hide an inner misery towards the people around her holds a lot of strength and truth. The film starts off like it’s hitting a comedic raw nerve, and Knightley does a great job (with a great American accent) making Megan relatable, but not exactly likable. She has a selfish streak, but at least has a code of what she thinks is right and wrong. She’ll readily buy Moretz and her buddies beers illegally, but she’s disgusted by her previously coddling father (Jeff Garlin) having an affair and her boyfriend’s love of self-help philosophising. Her laziness is hard to excuse, but the frustrations she feels around her are understandable. It’s readily apparent that the only thing Megan has actively been rebelling against is having responsibilities thrust upon her instead of taking them on herself. She plays well off of Moretz and Rockwell’s kindred spirits because they represent who she was and who she secretly wishes she could be.
That’s where Shelton comes in, who as of late has become a bit of a master when it comes to sheparding sometimes obvious material. Much like the likable, but predictable outings of Touchy Feely and Your Sister’s Sister, Shelton has to work a bit harder to make sure her cast and characters never lapse into cartoons when her stories take sometimes implausibly convenient plot twists that are just designed to goose the audience. Her films often tie together a bit too neatly, and things are sometimes a bit on the nose (right down to this film’s Seattle setting getting paired with a score from Ben Gibbard), but they’re never cloying. Shelton treats her characters with such love and respect that the tone is genuine instead of something that feels like it’s coasting easily on previously established conventions of “independent cinema.” The story beats might not be overly original, but there’s a distinct and warming voice that’s delivering the story.
That’s why it’s a little disappointing when the romance between Rockwell and Knightley begins. It’s hard not to think “Oh, I’m watching THAT movie now,” and hard not to wish that Laggies couldn’t come up with a better solution to Megan’s existential malaise outside of the power of love. Knightley and Rockwell still make it enjoyable, though, and Shelton has framed both of them as being people worthy of love and happiness. It’s certainly not high art, but it’s just a hair bit better than the standard slacker movie or rom-com. It’s fine, satisfying fall afternoon viewing.