Knightley shines as overage adolescent

Knightley shines as overage adolescent
Movie Still: Keira Knightley in Laggies, also starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell.

LAGGIES (PG13)

Romantic comedy/102 minutes/Opens today

Rating: 4/5

The story:

Megan (Keira Knightley) is close to 30, but is unwilling to let go of her adolescence. Her father (Jeff Garlin) has given her a trivial part-time job and she lives with high-school sweetheart Anthony (Mark Webber). Meanwhile, her old clique in school are married and have children. She meets 16-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), parented by single dad Craig (Sam Rockwell).

What at first glance seems to be yet another paean to the self-absorption of millennials is instead a frothy, thoroughly delightful comedy about looking 30 but feeling 17.

Arrested adolescence is hardly a new topic for comedic exploration, but what makes this one stand out is the refreshing lack of formulaic quirk or whimsy.

There are no hipsters with adorable eccentricities or scrawny kids with big dreams here. These are average suburban folks of varying ages, bumping along as best as they can, grabbing at whatever small treat life throws at them.

This project marries director Lynn Shelton, queen of the low-budget, improvisation-heavy "mumblecore" scene, with a script from novelist and first-time screenwriter Andrea Seigel.

Shelton as writer-director is known for talky, navel-gazing, realist works built on the comedy of awkwardness that occurs after close friends or relations are forced to tear down their boundaries (Humpday, 2009; Your Sister's Sister, 2011).

But here, working with text from professional wordsmith Seigel (rather than from the riffs of actors), the director and occasional actress proves that she can deliver a work that feels studio-polished, without it feeling like the film equivalent of refined sugar.

The romance element, for instance, develops slowly, almost stealthily, without it dominating the story or squashing supporting characters into irrelevance or caricature. The love affair loses none of its charm or power by growing in this manner.

At first glance, Knightley seems to be a strange choice for the character of the aimless, conflicted and somewhat spoilt Megan, perpetually on the verge of returning to graduate school.

But the English actress, known for her period dramas, delivers an absorbing, cliche-free performance.

It would be easy enough to imagine, say, Emma Stone or Mila Kunis in the lead role, but that would have made for a completely different and far more predictable movie.

Knightley's Megan is morose without being self-pitying, darkly humorous without snarkiness. As an actress, she can be divisive; her critics bemoan her lack of range.

Here, in Shelton's capable hands, she inhabits the skin of a middle-class American neurotic with the best of them.

johnlui@sph.com.sg


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