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by Philip Martin | November 7, 2014 at 2:19 a.m.

Shallow, smug and bizarrely myopic, Laggies is such a departure from Lynn Shelton's previous well-observed work (Your Sister's Sister, Humpday and last year's undisciplined but charming Touchy Feely) that one is tempted to lay the bulk of the blame at the feet of this film's only credited writer, young adult novelist Andrea Siegel.

That's probably unfair, since Laggies feels like a Lynn Shelton movie in that it once again explores the arrested adolescence of a nice white middle-class person from the Pacific Northwest. But while Shelton's previous films have always had about them a lived-in verisimilitude that vouched for the basic humanity (and decency) of her characters no matter how they behaved, few of the people in Laggies act anything like real people might, given the circumstances that confront them. A certain suspension of disbelief is required to engage any fiction, but rarely has a movie evoked the "That would never happen in real life" response so frequently as Laggies.


79 Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Ellie Kemper, Jeff Garlin, Gretchen Mol, Sara Coates, Kaitlyn Dever

Director: Lynn Shelton

Rating: R, for language, some sexual material and teen partying

Running time: 99 minutes

To begin with, the only real reason to feel any affinity for 28-year-old Meagan, Laggies' slacker protagonist, is because she is played by Keira Knightley, and therefore retains a good bit of the actor's lean, laconic, snaggle-toothed charm. Even frumped down with a mousy hairstyle, there's a certain loveliness and intelligence at play here. Meagan isn't supposed to be -- and Knightley clearly isn't -- stupid, so we suffer a cognitive break when the character behaves insanely.

Meagan, we learn, has an advanced degree in some kind of counseling, but she'd rather twirl a sign advertising tax preparation services outside her father's small accounting concern than find any kind of real job. She's ensconced in a safe yet boring long-term relationship with her vaguely arty photographer boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber), the sort of nice but unexciting guy we know she'll never settle for because she's too adventurous or full of life or some rot.

She still hangs out with her high school friends, all of whom have moved on to the sort of compromised adult existence that we are meant to perceive as shamefully normal. Meagan can't articulate it to herself, but she sees her friends as living in a conventional hell and when -- at her best friend/worst scold's wedding reception -- dear dull Anthony dares to try to propose to her, she bolts to perform some unnecessary bridesmaid's errand and in the process runs into a highly photogenic gang of high school munchkins led by Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), who ask the lady in the party dress if she'll buy them some beer. And some highly Chekhovian white wine.

OK, maybe that would happen. And maybe Meagan would even buy the kids their booze (after all, they say she can keep the change). But then, instead of returning to her best friend's wedding reception, she takes the kids up on their offer to hang out and get smashed in the playground. Not too surprisingly, she finds she fits in better with this group of semi-formed adolescents than she does with her longtime friends.

When she finally staggers home, dear dull worried Anthony accepts her ridiculous excuse. Soon she's engaged. But first she wants to attend a conveniently scheduled week-long seminar being held on an island off the coast where she'll find out what her spirit animal is and discover her true course in life. Dear dull dumb Anthony thinks it's a great idea.

But instead of attending the seminar, Meagan crashes at Annika's house for the week. And her father, a heartbroken, caustic divorce lawyer played by Sam Rockwell, allows her to do so, even though he's not blind and he can clearly see that Meagan is "a grown woman." It's a premise unworthy of a cheesy sitcom.

You can kind of guess what happens -- Meagan ends up disappointing everyone who has anything to do with her, but somehow we're supposed to believe that the movie ends happily. It's a romantic comedy, after all!

Actually, it's a damn shame. A lot of talented people have clearly committed resources to Laggies. The cast is generally pretty excellent, even if Rockwell is stuck with yet another quirky jerky part ("it's like the guy from The Way, Way Back grew up and became a lawyer" was how one of the attendees at an advance screening put it), Knightley is forced to behave in dignity-eroding ways, and we're supposed to believe the luminous Moretz is a wallflower who can't attract the attention of her major crush.

What's so wrong about Laggies is that it asks us to empathize with a genuinely pathetic person, an over-educated, over-privileged slacker who doesn't fully comprehend how toxic her behavior has become. And while that's fine as a starting point, while we're all flawed human beings and the only real story is how we change for better or worse, the central problem with Laggies is that this woman doesn't change at all over the course of the movie. She simply trades in one sort of romantic sinecure for another. (And in the process, she wreaks a good bit of emotional havoc. It's like a junior varsity Eat Pray Love.)

That said, I don't hate the movie. Or maybe I do hate the movie, while retaining some good will for the moviemakers, who were no doubt trying to do something ... different. Unfortunately, they didn't even succeed at that. As erratic and wrong-headed a character as Meagan is, you can still see every plot point looming. Laggies isn't a train wreck of a movie-- it's a movie of a train wreck. In slow motion. On a loop.

MovieStyle on 11/07/2014

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