There’s a feeling of contrivance about “Laggies,” with characters being thrown together that wouldn’t be thrown together, and events that string along that would never be allowed to happen. But Keira Knightley holds the whole contraption together with a performance of spontaneity and offhand inspiration.
To think of the making of this movie is to envy director Lynn Shelton. It must be a wonderful thing to look through a camera or stare at a monitor and watch an actress save your whole movie. Knightley, scene by scene, makes something rich out of something plain, and something human out of something mechanical. What’s there to do but keep the focus on her and get out of her way?
Seeing Knightley here, it’s hard to believe this is the same actress who was so embarrassing in “A Dangerous Method” and who made audiences root for the train in “Anna Karenina.” Is it possible – just tossing this out – that Knightley has been the victim of her English accent? It has caused her to be cast in stuffy period films, not to mention those awful “Pirates” movies, when she might ideally belong in the contemporary world. If this movie and last summer’s “Begin Again” are any indication, she might really be a comic actress.
The term “Laggies” refers to people lagging through early adulthood, whose real lives haven’t really started yet. In the case of Megan (Knightley), who has an advanced degree, but no career, and who has an affectionate yet oddly stale relationship with her live-in boyfriend, life hasn’t started because she doesn’t want it to start. That is, she knows, if only unconsciously, that if she makes the most obvious moves available to her, she will be permanently miserable.
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There’s an insightful scene early in the movie, in which the sweet-natured boyfriend (Mark Webber) attempts to propose to her at friend’s wedding. He’s trying to get down on one knee, and she’s pulling him up, but what makes the scene not only funny is the panic – the specificity of the panic – on Knightley’s face. The panic is not that the proposed marriage must not happen but that the proposal itself must be stopped at all costs.
This is soon followed by another proposal scene, a private one, in which Knightley’s utter command of the character is first evident. In a way, it’s a scene you’ve seen a thousand times: A woman reacts to a proposal she doesn’t want. But Knightley lands her response in a multitude of conflicted emotions, which have nothing to do with the usual comic disdain for the boyfriend. When she says, “Yes,” we can see the reluctance, but its source is elusive, a whole tangle of thoughts and feelings, from the serious to the trivial.
Much of “Laggies” involves an unexpected friendship that develops between 20-something Megan and a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz). The girl needs a mother figure, and Megan needs the comfort of being around someone years away from the big life decisions – in other words, someone who doesn’t see her standing still as a crime. Sam Rockwell plays the girl’s lawyer-father, with a veneer of cynicism and a hint of something tender he’s protecting.
If you look back on “Laggies” having seen it, you’ll have the pleasure of understanding just how Knightley put together her performance. You’ll see that all of Megan’s actions have proceeded from a fear of facing one specific reality. At the same time, within this specific frame, her performance is so loose that it just seems as if it’s being made up on the spot. And of course, the director gets some of the credit for that.
So here’s the case of a movie that is, in every way, nothing special – except for the way it’s made and how it’s done.
Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell
Director: Lynn Shelton
Rated R (profanity, some sexual material and teen partying)