I like the new Keira Knightley. She’s so much more fun than the old one. The old one never would have played the sort of person who sees a giant Buddha statue in an Asian restaurant and twists the statue’s nipples while making a “wee waw wee waw” sound, but that’s what the new Knightley does in Laggies, an independent comedy that opens this week and deserves an audience while Christopher Nolan’s space adventure is sucking up all the oxygen.
She plays Megan, a 28-year-old Seattleite who holds a master’s degree in marriage counseling but has never worked a steady job, mostly because she’s not interested. Her successful wedding photographer boyfriend (Mark Webber) has been supporting her, but when he gets down on one knee at a friend’s wedding to propose to her, she screams at him to get back up before he can say anything. Then she flees the premises, spending the evening hanging out with Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teen outside a grocery store who asks Megan to buy beer for her. After eventually accepting her boyfriend’s proposal, Megan invents an excuse and spends a week hiding at Annika’s house to think. Pretty much everyone around Annika finds this weird.
Knightley has never had a comic showcase like this, and she grasps it with both hands, whether it’s a simple bit in which she whips her body over the back of a sofa or a big set piece in which Megan pretends to be Annika’s mom for a parent-teacher conference and goes off on a series of tangents about herself while convincing the guidance counselor that she has a plan for her fake daughter. The escalating panic Knightley conveys after her character agrees to get married is both mesmerizing and deliriously funny. Moretz is a solid partner for the lead, and contributions come from other corners (like Sam Rockwell as Annika’s wryly funny divorced dad and Dallas native Kaitlyn Dever as Annika’s best friend), but this is Knightley’s show.
This is the first movie by director Lynn Shelton that was written by someone else — namely, first-timer Andrea Seigel — and it could have used some of the weirder edges of Shelton’s heavily improvised comedies Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister. Still, she clearly loves working with actors and they with her. The tone of this piece is kept light throughout, but Shelton can bring tension, too, as in a scene when Megan tries to smooth over a fraught meeting between Annika and her mom (Gretchen Mol) who abandoned the family. Even though this movie was made on a tiny budget, it feels like something made for the multiplexes in its easy digestibility. Telling the story of a woman who needs a little time to figure out what to do now that she’s no longer a teenager, Laggies is a necessary corrective to all the man-boy stories that predominate in our multiplexes. Thanks to a newly loose and confident Keira Knightley, it’s also a very funny one.
Starring Keira Knightley and Chloë Grace Moretz. Directed by Lynn Shelton. Written by Andrea Seigel. Rated R.