Laggies

(2014) *** R
99 min. A24 Films. Director: Lynn Shelton. Cast: Sam Rockwell, Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Chloe Grace Moretz.

/content/films/4741/1.jpg“If growing up means it would be/Beneath my dignity to climb a tree,/I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up./Not me!” As per that musical manifesto, perhaps no modern myth resonates more with contemporary America than that of Peter Pan. And “Peter Pan Syndrome” isn’t just for boys anymore, as proven by the new Lynn Shelton film Laggies.

Directed by Shelton (Your Sister’s Sister) but scripted by first-timer Andrea Seigel, Laggies offers Keira Knightley a choice role that the ever-waifish actress surprisingly nails. Knightley usually comes across on screen as some kind of photo-ready supermodel wet blanket, a bit of a bore and typically relegated to dully unimaginative period pieces. But in Laggies, Knightley plays a modern American underdog, a loser, but our loser, who laments the way the world sucks even though she hasn’t yet committed to making it, or even her own life, better.

Knightley’s 28-year-old Megan is trying not to feel the burn of a quarter-life crisis. Despite holding an advanced degree, she’s reduced to spinning an advertising sign for her CPA father (Jeff Garlin) and playing reluctant bridesmaid to a judgmental friend (Ellie Kemper). But on the wedding night, a proposal from her uninspiring boyfriend (Mark Webber) sends Megan dashing into the night for a breather.

There, she’s plied by teenagers who want her to buy them booze, and before you can say, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Megan bonds with the equally needy sixteen-year-old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz). After doing Annika a couple of big solids, Megan earns the right to her own big ask: a place to “lay low” for a week to avoid her responsibilities, including facing up to the reality of that marriage proposal. And so it is that Megan begins bunking out on Annika’s bedroom floor.

Megan’s “laggie” lifestyle and hijinks with Annika make for some drily funny scenes and an intriguing premise based around an unusual female friendship. Simply running with that might have made Laggies more interesting than what it turns out to be, which is, in large part, a romantic comedy. Still, that the romantic comedy pairs a suddenly likeable Knightley with the always likeable Sam Rockwell (as Annika’s bemused single dad) means that even the film’s turn toward convention satisfies, goosed as it is by Rockwell’s spontaneous acting style.

Throw in an anorexic tortoise (that Megan also bonds with), and Laggies quickly takes on a “what’s not to like?” air. Though hardly profound in its implications, the picture proves different enough—in content and verbal style—to be quirky. While the borderline silly material could easily have sunk like a lead balloon, Shelton and her actors sprinkle enough pixie dust to make Laggies fly.

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