Laggies, the sixth feature from Seattle-based director Lynn Shelton, is another entry in her canon of films about arrested development. Even her movies that revolve around an uncomfortable sexual experience — Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister — are about people needing to just get over themselves.
Laggies is billed as a comedy-romance, but in reality there is very little romance and even less comedy. So what is it? The film is so lightweight it’s almost impossible to recall a single image, sequence or line of dialogue 10 minutes after you’ve walked out of the theater.
On the positive side, Keira Knightley is the watchable center of the picture. A woman in her late 20’s who is having trouble finding a career and committing to an impending marriage, she meets a teenager, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who looks like she could use an older mentor. Knightley's character is not mentor material, but they hang out together, and then she moves in with the teen and her dad, played by Sam Rockwell.
Meanwhile, Knightley pretends to be attending a week-long self-improvement seminar on Orcas Island, lying to her fiancé and her friends while actually going to parties, boozing with Rockwell and taking his daughter to visit the kid’s mom, who ran out on her. Rockwell supplies a few notes of adult gravitas, and there are the very occasional moments when anger, embarrassment or disappointment rear their tempestuous heads. But like a too-skinny beauty pushing her food around the plate, Shelton leaves a feast of meaty plot points on the table.
The movie is stolid and tentative. Polite when it needs to be fiery. Calm when it needs to rage. Visually, the picture is as bland as a Mill Creek split-level, one of several neighborhoods around Seattle where it was filmed. Aerial shots of the city stitch the sequences together, but the whole thing looks like it was filmed at high noon on an overcast day. I’ve seen sitcoms with more shadows.
Speaking of which … what’s with the dippy, TV-comedy soundtrack? Composed by the usually inventive Benjamin Gibbard (of Postal Service and Death Cab For Cutie), the music sounds like the in and out cues you might have heard on an episode of Alf. If Shelton and her crew were competing in a contest to make Laggies the most anti-cinematic film of the year, there is a gold star waiting for them.
Shelton’s previous films relied on extended scenes of improvisation to fill time. Here, she is working with a script by Andrea Seigel. The movie has a quicker pulse than anything else the director has done, which at least creates the impression of forward momentum. Most of her films stall out in rambling conversations, the actors groping their way toward meaning.
Knightley and Rockwell are freed from the constraints of this method, so their scenes together feel plump with possibility. One sequence in particular lifts the movie out of its predictable doldrums. The two characters throw back a few shots, make a grown-up connection and then have sex. It’s a nice scene, but it also points up a needling contradiction at the core of this film: In a few key moments when it suits her character — and the script — Knightley is shown to be too smart, too self-aware and too beautiful to be believable as an immature slacker or as a wishy-washy tagalong to her schlumpy boyfriend.
She’s not lagging, she’s just play-acting.
This review first appeared on The Restless Critic blog.