Keira Knightley salvages ‘Laggies’ uninspiring plot

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Imagine a woman who simply does not want to grow up — so much so, in fact, that she ends up befriending a group of high schoolers in an attempt to escape the complexities and crises of her own life. Such is the premise of “Laggies,” directed by Lynne Shelton and written by Andrea Seigel.

The film centers around 28-year-old Megan (played by the lively Keira Knightley), who prefers to live in the comfortable limbo between teenhood and adulthood that she has created. This limbo consists of waving signs for her father’s business and crashing at her parents’ house under the guise of attending “career counseling” sessions. Despite her advanced degree and doting high school sweetheart Anthony (played by Mark Webber), Megan lags behind. And she likes it. Though “Laggies” does devolve into many cliches of the coming-of-age comedy genre, its star-studded cast redeems the otherwise average screenplay with quirky and poignant performances.

Megan’s friend group has remained intact since high school, and each member has followed the traditional path of finding jobs, getting married and having children. It is not until her best friend’s wedding, though, that her life begins to unravel. She and Anthony share conspiratorial glances during the bride and groom’s cringeworthy wedding dance (think: awkward interpretive dancing). They seem to be on the same page about the absurdity of marriage — until Anthony gets down on one knee.

Utterly dumbfounded, Megan yanks Anthony up from the ground before he can even pop the question. It is here that Knightley demonstrates a surprising knack for comedic facial expressions — a mixture of panic and amusement — that prevents the scene from taking itself too seriously. Hilariously acted moments such as these make the scenes, which seems to lack Shelton’s trademark adlib improvisational style, far more palatable.

Megan eventually stops at a grocery store, where she meets the group of teenagers who will become her sanctuary for the next week of her life. Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) is the brave soul who approaches Megan with a plea for some booze. Moretz is highly believable as the good-hearted but slightly rebellious teenager. But it would have been nice to see her character developed further. The audience learns little about Annika’s background outside her often superficial interactions with her friends. Much of her teenage drama does, however, effectively highlight the many parallels between her adolescent angst and Megan’s own adulthood crises.

At its core, “Laggies” is about spontaneity and youth. It lauds “sucking it up and going with your gut,” as Megan so deftly puts it. From the way Megan’s holier-than-thou friends belittle her “immature” antics — like when she lightheartedly tweaks the nipples on a Buddha statue — to the laughable stereotypes her married friends buy into — a couple names their son Juppiter with two “p’s” because it is unique — it is clear that growing up is linked with monotony and a sheer inability to have fun. So it is a little disappointing when “Laggies” takes a turn for the predictable in the latter half of the film.

Megan understandably becomes a maternal stand-in for Annika’s absent mom and comes to some serious existential realizations regarding Annika’s father, Craig (Sam Rockwell), at the high school prom.

Fortunately, Siegel’s somewhat uninspired plot is salvaged by Knightley’s, Moretz’s and Rockwell’s standout performances. This is not at all the same Knightley known for period dramas such as “Anna Karenina” and “Pride and Prejudice” — such is her ability to pull off comedy.

In “Laggies,” Knightley’s loose-limbed performance proves her to be an extremely versatile actress, even if her American accent is slightly jarring. Rockwell is perfectly cast as Craig, demonstrating his ability to be both the funny guy and the sexy romantic lead; his chemistry with Megan is one of the movie’s most realistic and organic aspects.

Perhaps, the film suggests, love is what spurs us to stop lagging and start living.

“Laggies” is playing at the AMC Metreon 16 in San Francisco.

Contact Madeline Zimring at [email protected].