Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Laggies (2014) – Review

Review: Laggies is a light and fun dramedy elevated by great performances.

The film is about Megan, a woman in her late twenties who is just sort of floating through life unsure of what she wants. She has been in a relationship with Anthony and a part of the same group of friends since high school; but, she feels herself growing apart from them. She is also afraid to admit this fact to herself. When Anthony proposes to her, she gets freaked out. She says yes, but then drops out of her life for a week, hiding out with a teenage girl named Annika. Megan connects with both Annika and her dad Craig, making her decision of whether she really wants to go back to her old life all the more difficult.

Director Lynn Shelton is known for making very realistic, character-driven micro-budget dramedies, utilizing improvised dialog and naturalistic performances and production design. Laggies is no different. It has a lower-budget feel and look (costing one million, by far Shelton’s highest budget), yet flourishes on its rich characters and strong performances. Shelton’s style is unglamorous (even when she casts beautiful movie stars), telling stories about normal people leading normal lives.

In Laggies, Megan is stuck. She does not know what she wants and just staying put feels safer than actually taking a risk in pursuit of being happy. In many ways, Megan serves as a surrogate for many of us. In high school and college, we do not need to know what we want, not really at least, as we go from class to class, exam to exam, year to year, propped up by our group of friends. As we grow older, we change, however, and these high school friends are not necessarily right for us anymore. We also are faced with life outside of school – having to actually do something somewhat productive to generate money so that we can survive (without leaching off our parents too much). In a world in which we grow up being told we can do anything (be that true or not), these limitless options become intimidating – if we can do anything, how can we possibly choose what is right for us? We are told to do what makes us happy, but it is not as easy as that – at least not for most of us – because we do not really know what makes us happy. Many of us find it challenging to grow up and take responsibility for our own lives, clinging to the hope that things will just fall into place for us (magically).

It is clear that Megan no longer fits where she is; she is unhappy, but afraid to make a change. It is not until she experiences something new that she really realizes what is out there – what she might actually want for herself. Shelton does a great job here, exaggerating the two worlds Megan experiences. Her life with Anthony and her high school friends grown up is one of constant stress, as they have drifted apart, finding themselves on a different life paths (yet no one is willing to admit it). Shelton more or less presents these characters as being awful. The alpha dog of the group Allison is like a thirty-year-old version of Regina George from Mean Girls, dictating what is right and wrong maintaining control over her group. Allison sees Megan as a problem because she no longer fits in with the group and tries her hardest to make decisions for Megan to arrange her life so that she will better fit into where the group is heading. Megan’s relationship with Anthony is also presented as being terrible. He is smothering her.

Meanwhile, Annika and her friends just accept Megan as she is, letting her have fun and making her feel cool again – something that she has not felt in a long time, maybe not since high school. In Craig, Megan finally has met a man that she can have fun with and engage with her on a higher level. Shelton presents Megan as being a completely different person. She is her best self around Annika and Craig, while she is stifled and put down constantly by her friends. This creates empathy for her plight even in a situation that seems ridiculous (hanging out with a teenage girl to avoid your own life). The audience likes Megan, seeing her excel around these characters, and roots for her to finally have the guts to make a change in her life.

The film is fairly simple, narratively, and we pretty much know where things are going from the beginning. The drama is presented in a very light way as well – nothing is very heavy or intense, even though the deeper theme of broken marriage can be very painful and destructive. This theme is all over the film, but Shelton still keeps things light by infusing the film with lots of great humor. Again, the performances are fantastic and fun, which plays a big role in the humor and light tone. The film’s biggest drawback is that while it does venture into more dramatic places it never lingers for very long, retreating back to the lighter tone always. Things are difficult for the characters, but also maybe a little too easy. That said, however, Shelton never really seems to want Laggies to be a full on drama, which is why she actively keeps thing light. And, we need fun, light films too.

Laggies is not a powerful drama that endeavors to deeply resonate with its audience, but it still gets its message across, one of taking risks and striving to find happiness in one’s life – not allowing oneself to just float unhappily through life, settling for what is easy. It is a funny and entertaining dramedy, using its indie aesthetic and performances very well.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Lynn Shelton started out making micro-budget indie films (known as Mumble Core), like Humpday. Lately, she has been making similarly small films but with better known actors, like Your Sister’s Sister. Laggies is her best film to date, as she garners great performances while balancing the humor and drama very well.

Composer Benjamin Gibbard’s score does a good enough job supporting the dramatic moments in the film, but is mostly unremarkable. Benjamin Kasulke’s cinematography gives the film a naturalistic feel. He does good job lighting the faces of his stars, as everyone looks good. Production designer John Lavin does a great job creating a very realistic feel, as the sets look lived in.

Laggies succeeds overall thanks to its great performances. Gretchen Mol has very little screen time but is very good as Annika’s absent mother. Ellie Kemper plays Allison off-type – a mean girl who wants to corral Megan, fitting her back into her compartment within their group. Mark Webber is quite good at playing needy, and does so here. Kaitlyn Dever plays Misty, one of Annika’s friends. She is a star in the making, bringing a lot of fun energy to the supporting role. Sam Rockwell is very charming and a little goofy as Craig. He is very enjoyable to watch. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Annika projecting a vibe of coolness, veiling her vulnerability. In lesser hands the nuance of the role would have been lost but Moretz plays it wonderfully. Keira Knightley is fantastic as Megan, creating an American accent that works well placing her socially and culturally. Knightley is a fine actress, bringing more gravitas to Megan than one might expect to find in lighter fare such as Laggies. Her emotional turmoil resonates to a greater extent in her capable hands. Her work also pulls the audience in. Plus, she has great chemistry with Rockwell and Moretz (which makes the film), while seemingly having no chemistry with Webber making their relationship feel all the more wrong.

Summary & score: Laggies is a good little indie, featuring terrific work from its cast (especially Knightley, Moretz and Rockwell). It is funny and sweet. 7/10

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