Teen angst has been good to the movies. “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without a Cause” defined that common collision of hormones and school stress for the 19560s and every decade since has offered up its own example of misunderstood, troubled youth. Heck, Kristen Stewart has made a career of playing dead-eyed teens.
“Laggies” fits the mold of a teen angst film, except the main character Megan (Keira Knightley) is a clever twenty-something who never completely grew out of her angst. “I had a good feeling about you,” says one her friends. “That makes one of us,” she replies.
In the film’s opening minutes we meet Megan and her friends on prom night. They sneak cocktails, dance and go skinny-dipping. Cut to today, the four girls (Ellie Kemper) are still in touch, some married to their high school sweethearts, some, like Megan, living with her prom date Anthony (Mark Webber).
Megan is surrounded by a strong support system; adoring parents, a devoted boyfriend and friends who love her enough to ask her to be their child’s godmother.
Still, she is unsettled. That feeling intensifies when Anthony tries to propose on the night of her best friend’s wedding. A chance encounter with a group of teens, including Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her sarcastic friend Misty (Kaitlyn Dever), forces Megan to reexamine her life and relationship.
Megan says she became a psychologist because she wanted to have real conversations with people and Knightly, in a lissome performance, brings forthrightness to the character… even when she is lying. It’s something different from Knightley. She’s more off hand here than we’re used to, and even though she looks like a fashion model even when she is dressed down in her teen friend’s clothes, she still radiates the teen ennui that defines her character. We see her working through it, trying to figure out what she wants, but for now she is an unemployed woman with a degree who still flops herself on parents’ couch demanding pizza night.
Moretz and Dever also impress. In some ways Annika is more grown up, yet more confused than Megan. They mentor one another, and Moretz brings real vulnerability to the role. Less vulnerable but way sassier is Dever’s Kaitlyn who embodies the eye rolling best friend in every teen movie.
The role of the grumpy father, and this case also love interest, is ably taken by Sam Rockwell. He’s stern but funny—he says Annika and Kaitlyn are “like gerbils; they have no sense of time.”—but never feels like a caricature. None of the characters do. The story may have some questionable moments but the characters don’t.
“Laggies” director Lynn Shelton has a deft touch with characters—as witnessed in her other films “Humpday” and “Your Sister’s Sister”—but has relied a bit too heavily on rom-com conventions. It’s a satisfying movie, it’s too bad it settles for a standard ending.