Although it sometimes seems as directionless as its central character, “Laggies” gets engaging results from the arrested-development theme. Director Lynn Shelton delivers enough humor and poignancy to make up for a frustrating tameness in this female-slacker romp exploring the terror involved in making pivotal personal decisions.
Shelton (“Humpday,” “Your Sister’s Sister”) makes modestly scaled movies in which characters struggling with growing up do wrongheaded, crazy things. Like the Duplass brothers, she starts with not ambitious, but solid, premises and lets her characters sputter and connect, often meaningfully.
While “Laggies,” which was written by young-adult novelist Andrea Seigel, contains a less spontaneous and more commercial tone than Shelton’s improvisation-filled previous fare, her admired themes and styles remain.
Keira Knightley plays Megan, a 28-year-old Seattle resident who, despite having earned an advanced degree, does low-level work for her CPA father (Jeff Garlin). Megan feels alienated from her conventionally maturing friends, whose weddings and pregnancies bore her.
After catching sight of her dad in a compromising position, and receiving a marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend (Mark Webber), Megan freaks. Concocting a lie, she disappears to think things through, hiding out in the home of high-schooler Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Megan bonds with Annika and her friends. She also wins over Annika’s understandably suspicious divorce-lawyer father Craig (Sam Rockwell). By turns irresponsible and wise, she acts as Annika’s best friend and big sister. The pair visits Annika’s lingerie-model mother (Gretchen Mol), who deserted Annika and Craig.
Complications arise when Megan and Craig become attracted to each other.
The film lacks the edge and impact of similar comedies such as “Young Adult” and “Obvious Child.” The story is predictable, the tenor is flat and Megan’s adult friends are tediously one-dimensional.
But for every disappointment, there’s more than enough sparkle. Shelton, who hasn’t ditched her off-kilter groove, has made an entertaining, eccentric, emotionally satisfying comedy about conformity, defiance, growing up, but also remaining a child where it matters. The premise of a woman rejecting adulthood and hanging out with high-school kids plays out amusingly and credibly.
Serious material involving divorce, adultery and abandonment adds welcome shades. There also are fresh takes on the airport-climax and prom-night cliches. While a bit hard to buy as an unmotivated screw-up, Knightley gives Megan an endearing bouncy quality, which jibes with the movie’s pleasant tone and helps viewers believe Craig’s feelings for Megan.
Supporting-cast standouts include the perpetually undervalued Rockwell and Kaitlyn Dever as Annika’s sarcastic best friend.
Starring: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Mark Webber
Written by: Andrea Seigel
Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes