Written by YA novelist Andrea Siegel, Lynn Shelton’s Laggies is a squeaky-clean rom-com wrapped in 25-is-the-new-15 packaging—usually reserved for the likes of Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill. Keira Knightley is Megan, a Seattlelite chained to the same group of friends she’s had since high school, both bored and unnerved by the slowly encroaching expectations of marriage and babies. When her longtime boyfriend, Anthony (Mark Webber), proposes to her, she flees. After she agrees to buy booze for 16-year-old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz), the two strike up a rapport which, to Megan’s own surprise (and mild anxiety), sees her embedded with Annika’s group until the wee small hours of the morning (in Laggies’s world, that means a quarter past midnight). The next morning—hungover, confused, and bedraggled—she tells Anthony she’ll marry him as soon as she’s back from a “career seminar,” which duly becomes code for hiding out at Annika’s house for the week. The teenager’s father, Craig (Sam Rockwell), susses Megan out immediately, but the two have obvious chemistry, cushioning her bizarre decision to stay with both warmth and much-needed ambivalence.
The paradox of Megan’s heretofore life is that she’s allowed her choices to be made by the people around her—predominantly men, including her pampering father (Jeff Garlin), whom she glimpses committing an infidelity near the Space Needle. Her feeling of hollowness is mediated by a newfound protective streak, and the friendship between her and Annika has few contemporaries within the contemporary teen-comedy genre. When Annika asks Megan to escort her on an impromptu drop-in on her decidedly deadbeat mom (an unrecognizable Gretchen Mol), the film approaches real dramatic tenderness. Shelton’s facility for working with actors is unmistakable; it’s Siegel’s screenplay that tries too hard to have its dramatic turns work both ways. Megan manages to briefly ruin each and every one of her surrounding characters’ lives and get off pretty much scot-free, and the lesson she dispenses to Annika in the film’s coda is little more than listen to your gut, which, given Rockwell’s no-nonsense single dad, seems a piece of advice Annika surely had heard already.
And yet, it’s no small feat that Megan’s disastrously ill-advised romance with Craig registers believably on both sides—even though he’s gray-haired and bitterly sarcastic and she’s, well, Keira Knightley. To her credit, the actress is all too willing to undercut her pretty-girl reputation by looking and acting a fool for Shelton’s camera, even if it’s highly dubious a woman with her looks and brassiness would spend 10-plus years dating a schlub like Anthony (or, for that matter, spinning a sign by the road for cash). Inversely, Knightley’s final scene with Webber is as emotionally rocky as the film gets, adjudicating pathos to a character who served as little more than feckless comic relief in his prior scenes. Unspectacularly shot, treading carefully not to impede its own wafer-light means of concoction, Shelton’s film has compassion and grace, even if it’s content to be middling.