Laggies is the latest comedy about a lazy millennial who would rather drift through life than be productive or, you know, commit to anything. The sub-genre is in danger of becoming insufferable – we’re already getting diminishing marginal returns from Greta Gerwig comedies – yet the formula has potential as long as there’s warmth and insight. In the hands of Lynn Shelton, a smart director who got her start in mumblecore before directing episodes of sitcoms like New Girl, the material is never exactly cloying, only predictable. Screenwriter Andrea Seigel may hit one predictable note after another, but she gives her characters enough depth so that we understand their choices, and see how they think. Laggies is more involving than it needs to be.
For members of a certain generation, of which I’m a member, there’s an instant nostalgia to the opening credits. With handheld amateur footage, we watch several young women have fun in the aftermath of their prom. They make promises to each other and are optimistic about their future, while songs like “Such Great Heights” play in the background (Ben Gibbard provides the film’s soundtrack). One of these young women is Megan, played by Keira Knightley as an adult, and she’s in a rut. She has a dead-end job, she lazes about her parents’ house, and her well-meaning high school sweetheart Anthony (Mark Webber) wants her to pursue a career. Seigel and Shelton offer compelling reasons for Megan’s ennui: her friends veer into self-parody as they transition into responsibility, and Megan clearly thinks she’s more sophisticated they are. Shelton observes Megan’s friends with anthropological curiosity, and has sympathy for her hero up to a point.
Her listless fog becomes a full-on crisis when she catches her father (Jeff Garlin) making out with the mother of her best friend. Instead of a professional development conference, Megan abandons her adult life, including a recent proposal from Anthony, in favor of a week with Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz), a high school student for whom she bought some beer. Pretty soon Megan is slumming with high school kids, getting drunk at their parties and sometimes helping as a big sister figure. Annika’s father Craig (Sam Rockwell) is skeptical of the new friendship, at least until Megan has him smiling again. Literally caught between adolescence and adulthood, Megan’s presence helps her adoptive family, at least until she simultaneously alienates both of them.
Seigel and Shelton have the wherewithal to construct a familiar scene, then let it play out in unconventional ways. Within the parameters of the romantic comedy framework, there are a series of small, gentle surprises. Consider the scene where Craig first meets Megan: his first instinct is one of distrust – Craig is a trial lawyer, incidentally – and he lets his guard down once he realizes that Megan is both attractive and smart. He’s not a push-over, exactly, although the power shifts throughout the scene so that everyone involved feels uncomfortable. Laggies has a shrewd understanding of how friendships and family are an ongoing minefield of adjustments and betrayals, and Seigel includes enough detail so that we see those dynamics in every bubble, whether it’s Craig’s family or Annika’s friends. There’s an early throwaway line about a dumb kid, and that becomes a set-up for a plot/character moment that’s both funny and heartbreaking. We may know the rhythm, but the details are new.
Instead of emotional histrionics, the actors downplay their turmoil so it’s easy for the audience to project feelings onto them. This is a terrific strategy, one that we’ve seen in indie dramedies over recent years, and in Laggies they lead to ugly truths about adulthood. There is a scene where Megan joins Annika to meet her estranged mother (Gretchen Mol), and their common ground would be creepy if it weren’t also sincere. In the film’s best scene, one that arrives like a sucker punch, Rockwell downplays Craig’s disappointment – keeping his feelings all in his eyes – until he summarizes the trappings of adulthood with blunt, undeniable clarity. Seigel’s script gives the actors plenty of rich material (all the performances are good, although Rockwell’s is exceptional), and Shelton’s direction deepens their work with smart, sly choices. When Megan and Anthony have their inevitable reckoning, the shot compositions tell the story better than the sad truths they finally share.
For all its strengths, there’s a thread through Laggies never grows taut. While the opening credits and first twenty minutes establish a friend group, the conclusion suggests that Megan ultimately finds her attachment to them poisonous. Seigel’s script does not justify how Megan gets from A to B, so the final revelations do not land with the same sting that can be found in smaller, character- building scenes (given Seigel’s success elsewhere, I cannot help but wonder if the script underwent major revisions). Like many other millennial comedies before it, Laggies dances around a lesson for Megan, although she is in dire need of one. While the final scene is predictable – maybe to a fault – Shelton leaves potential for Megan’s inevitable reckoning. We may still find her charming, but that charm wanes when we imagine yet another languid afternoon on that fucking couch.