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aka Say When

D: Lynn Shelton / 99m

Cast: Keira Knightley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber, Jeff Garlin, Ellie Kemper, Sara Coates, Kirsten deLohr Helland, Kaitlyn Dever, Daniel Zovatto, Dylan Arnold, Gretchen Mol

At twenty-six, Megan (Knightley) still doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She helps out her dad (Garlin) with his store, but otherwise does little beyond spend time with her friends, or her boyfriend, Anthony (Webber). When her friend Allison (Kemper) gets married, the day of the wedding proves traumatic when Anthony proposes to her unexpectedly and Megan sees her father fooling around with another woman. Unable to deal with the two events, she leaves the reception and drives around until she stops at a convenience store. There she’s stopped by a young girl, Annika (Moretz) and asked if she’ll buy alcohol for her and her friends. Megan agrees, and ends up spending the next few hours with them.

When she eventually gets back home, Anthony reveals that he thinks they should forgo a big wedding and elope to Las Vegas. Megan agrees that they should, but she still has qualms about getting married, and uses a trip to a planned careers advice seminar to delay their marriage for a week. Her idea is to give herself the space and time to decide if she wants to spend the rest of her life with Anthony. As she leaves Seattle, Megan receives a phone call from Annika asking if she can pose as her mother for a meeting with a school guidance counsellor. Megan does so, and asks Annika if, in return, she can stay with her for the upcoming week.

Annika is fine with the idea but knows her father, Craig (Rockwell), will be less enthusiastic about it, but Annika’s attempt to sneak Megan into the house fails, and Megan ends up being questioned by Craig – who’s a lawyer – about why she’s there. Megan lies and tells him she’s between apartments due to lease problems, and just needs somewhere to stay temporarily. Craig lets her stay, and as the week progresses he begins to trust her. So does Annika, so much so that she asks Megan to go with her to see her estranged mother, Bethany (Mol).

Craig and Megan spend an evening together at a bar and on their way home begin kissing. They have sex when they get home; next morning Craig offers to let Megan stay longer, but she reluctantly tells him she has to leave. They kiss again and this time Annika sees them. She later tells Megan that she doesn’t have a problem if they got together, but when they go shopping for a prom dress for Annika, Annika discovers Megan’s engagement ring. Forced to admit the truth, Megan’s deception proves to have lasting consequences…

Laggies - scene

After the disappointment of her previous movie, Touchy Feely (2013), hopes were high that Lynn Shelton’s next project would be an improvement, and re-cement her position as one of today’s more intriguing and perceptive directors. Working from a script by first-time screenwriter Andrea Siegel, Laggies – the phrase refers to people who are always late or lagging behind in some way – Shelton has certainly made a better feature than her last, but it’s still a movie that suffers from a lack of conviction.

Part of the problem is the central character of Megan, a young woman apparently experiencing a “quarter-life crisis”. While it’s not improbable for anyone to find themselves in their mid-twenties and without a clear idea of where their life is heading, where Megan is concerned it’s very clear that she’s an intelligent, independently-minded young woman, but someone who is unable to deal with the larger, more important aspects of becoming an adult. She avoids responsibility and appears emotionally shallow, but somehow manages to retain the affection and support of everyone around her. How she’s arrived at this point is never explained, and the movie never explores fully the implications of such an arrested lifestyle, preferring instead to have Megan float through her own life waiting for the answers to come to her rather than working them out for herself.

With Megan having little in the way of self-awareness (or even pride), it’s difficult to fully sympathise with her, especially when she falls for Craig so easily, a plot development that couldn’t have been signposted better if it had been written in fiery letters in the sky. It’s this conventional romantic approach that anchors the movie’s second half and leads to the kind of unsurprising resolution that’s been seen a million times before. That Shelton manages to keep the viewer interested despite all this is a tribute to her skills as a director, and the performance of Knightley, who adopts not only a convincing American accent, but also fleshes out the character of Megan against all the odds. There’s a scene after Megan has slept with Craig where she talks with her father; unable to judge him anymore, Megan’s lack of ambivalence over her own actions further hurts the scene, and it’s only rescued by Knightley’s decision to play it with a sense of newly discovered regret at the way she’s acted towards him.

Moretz is sidelined by the script’s insistence on her being a constant reminder of the simpler life Megan is looking for, while Rockwell brings his usual quirky schtick to a character who really needs to be more conservative, and not an older, wiser version of Megan. Spare a thought for Webber, though, playing a character so wet and puppy like you can only think Megan’s with him out of a sense of obligation, or worse, pity. With its four main characters either stretching credulity or in place to meet the wider needs of the storyline, the movie feels and sounds like an examination of a particularly callow way of living, and one that most of us would have little time for.

On the plus side, Shelton does make more of the material than it deserves, and she invests the movie with a rhythm that helps the viewer get through some of the more unlikely moments. Knightley dials down most of her usual mannerisms to give a polished portrayal of a lost soul who’d prefer to remain that way, and Mol deserves a mention for making Annika’s mother something more than the standard embittered ex-wife. Nat Sanders’ editing is another plus, especially when called upon to enhance a character’s emotional reaction in a scene, and there’s an often delightfully apt score by Benjamin Gibbard that subtly reflects Megan’s confusion.

Rating: 6/10 – while the movie’s structure is fairly sound, and Shelton shows an awareness of the script’s faults that compensates greatly, Laggies still feels undercooked, and as a result, falls short of what it’s aiming for; while it’s refreshing to see a woman in her mid-twenties having a life crisis, it’s also a shame to find said crisis left mostly unexplored.