By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Most arrested-development comedies revolve around men.
But not Laggies (the title a reference to those slow to grow up or move on) -- which focuses on a woman ten years removed from high school who can't or won't graduate to bigger and better things.
Keira Knightley, shedding her British accent to play an American, stars as aimless Megan, her senior prom receding in the rearview mirror and feeling more and more like a teenager than the twentysomething that she is.
She is, for example, still dating (even though they're living together) her high school sweetheart and still surrounded by the same group of friends, some of them already married moms.
When, at the wedding of her disapproving best friend (one-note Ellie Kemper), she spots her father (Jeff Garlin) cheating on her mother and her boyfriend (Mark Webber) suddenly proposes, even though she clams up about her father and accepts the proposal of her supposed soulmate, the thought of engagement terrifies her and she knows she needs to step into some version of a timeout corner.
So she takes off and, in her travels, encounters a 16-year-old kindred spirit named Annika, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, whom she befriends. But she's now seen as a grown woman hanging out with a high school kid: for shame!
Regardless, Megan accepts an invitation to crash at the house Annika shares with her single lawyer father, Craig, played by Sam Rockwell, whose wife long ago abandoned the two of them.
The emotional geometry would seem to fit, with Megan confronting a small but complete and functioning family unit, Annika finding a replacement mother figure (who is willing to impersonate her mother at a mandatory parent-guidance counselor meeting), and Craig, despite his misgivings about this May-September female friendship, welcoming a female grownup, for a change, into his house on the outskirts of Seattle.
Director Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister, Humpday, Touchy Feely) works for the first time from a screenplay by someone other than herself, in this case Young-Adult novelist Andrea Seigel.
Knightley struggles with an unsympathetic if not downright unlikeable character, while Moretz at least manages to make her character register three-dimensionally.
Meanwhile, Rockwell, so funny and charming in last year's The Way Way Back and an actor who has certainly played his share of laggies over the years, does what he can to boost the comedic energy level, but it's nowhere near enough to distract from the film's far-too-numerous dead spots.
Shelton's loose, improvisatory style, so winningly casual in Your Sister's Sister, here strands the principal actors by giving them too much rope and letting them dangle.
Consequently, Laggies meanders when it ought to at least trot, and lets the relationship between Megan and Annika, which should be the film's spine, fade into the background and just sort of peter out.
Like Megan, the film's not really sure where it wants to go and what it wants to be.
So we'll befriend 2 stars out of 4 for an underachieving comedy that, in a movie yearbook, would be voted Least Likely to Succeed. The aptly titled Laggies lags.
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