Calling director Lynn Shelton's Laggies a female slacker movie might be selling it short. What it's really is, Shelton tells me, is one of the rare movies where a woman is allowed to fumble way through her life.
"We're boxed into this care-giving role. We're supposed to be selfless and taking care of other people," Shelton, who also directed the well-received indie films Humpday and Your Sister's Sister, told me. "We're rarely given the opportunity on screen — and I'm saying we as women — to be on [our] own journeys, and to be flawed, and make mistakes and lie."
Shelton, who has also directed episodes of television shows like The Mindy Project and New Girl, has done her part to create new and unconventional roles for women. That flawed liar she's describing is the protagonist of Laggies, Megan (Keira Knightley), who finds her path in life after hanging out with a teen named Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz).
I recently spoke with Shelton about Laggies, the relationships she's exploring, the female roles she's creating, and even Keira Knightley's sign-spinning skills. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Alex Abad-Santos: Let's talk about Laggies. It seems like, and the way it's been promoted, that we're getting a female slacker movie?
Lynn Shelton: I feel like the word "laggies" and the title Laggies is a bit of a mislead.
That implies that there's this failure on her part to launch her life. And in my mind, she's not failing, and she's not actually immature. It's that she's living in this society and this conventional world in which she's made to feel immature, and she seems immature because she doesn't want to march in lockstep with her friends who are following this very conventional path toward "adulthood" or what society says is "adulthood." So really, she is bucking the system.
She has to figure out her own script. What is her life going to be? What does adulthood mean to her? And what does maturity mean to her? When you say slacker, for me, it's really more about marching to a different beat of a different drummer.
Alex Abad-Santos: Right. I don't think it's like a Pineapple Express type of movie.
Lynn Shelton: Exactly. When I think of "slacker" I think of somebody jobless and no degree. She's got an advanced degree. She's pretty tuned into the world and knows she wants to do something someday. She doesn't just quite know what it is yet.
Alex Abad-Santos: In your previous film, Your Sister's Sister, we saw two very different women, and they pushed back against the kind of "conventional" roles we usually see women play in movies. In Laggies we're seeing another, different kind of woman. How important is telling these different types of stories about different kinds of women on screen to you?
Lynn Shelton: I think it's incredibly important.
But sometimes that, "conventional" path works for you. I really wanted to give respect to the women whom Keira Knightley's character went to high school with. And I didn't want to just paint them as being uninteresting or dumb.
The movie is really more about growing out of relationships. Sometimes, we grow out of friendships. Sometimes, we grow out of relationships. It's really more about going in different directions. And that's what it's about. The path her friends are taking, the decisions they're making, and the progression of the timeline in making these choices in their lives are not for her.
Alex Abad-Santos: The movie made me think of A.O. Scott piece on adulthood, and what he said about the death of the patriarchy, as well as the rise of women being able to regress and finding humor in that regression as much as their male counterparts.
Lynn Shelton: Absolutely, yeah. When I read that piece, I felt like Laggies fit into that aspect he was talking about and proudly so. I was really happy about that. I think it's an important shift. I feel like it's a relatively recent phenomenon. This shift [the idea that women can fail and be flawed and find humor in it] — there was less of it when I read the script three years ago. It was really exciting to see that I am and this movie is part of a pastiche of what's going on in general.
Alex Abad-Santos: About that idea of patriarchy — the other big theme in the movie is about a daughter's relationship with her father.
Lynn Shelton: We talked a lot about the "daddy's little girl" syndrome, where Keira's character and her father, played by Jeff Garlin, are totally bonded. They get very little screen time, but you get it immediately — what they mean to each other and how they relate to each other and the joy they get out of each other.
It's a real juxtaposition with Sam Rockewell's character and how he relates to his daughter [Moretz], because he was "stuck" being the primary giver. There was this guy who never really wanted to be a single parent. He doesn't take to it. And Chloe's character was never really daddy's little girl. It was never like that. He's done his duty. He's been a dad. He's been good. But he's never really seen her as a whole person.
Keira's character, Megan, gets to see her father as a human being. And their relationship has a real shift. And Sam's character, because of his relationship with Megan, it enables him to see his daughter in new way, and as a whole person.
Alex Abad-Santos: Keira Knightley is being a bit goofy and we're seeing her play a role that we're not used to seeing. How fun was it to see that and push her in a more comedic direction?
Lynn Shelton: Well, it's recently out of the box. The Keira I was thinking of, the Keira I was casting was the Bend it Like Beckham Keira — the Keira who was totally game for a lot of physical comedy, especially in the Pirates movies, especially that first one.
I remember being so struck by how confident she was and how in her body she was, and how funny and pratfally she was at 17. Since then, she's been really put in so many movies where the focus seems to be about her exquisite beauty and her regalness, and she's playing period characters who have to repress any sort of contemporary facial expressions. The goofy side of her hasn't been allowed to come out, and that was the person I wanted to see onscreen again.
I could watch her twirling that sign for hours. [In the movie, Megan's job is as a sign twirler for her dad's company.]
Alex Abad-Santos: How many minutes of footage do you have of Keira Knightley twirling the sign?
Lynn Shelton: I think we made her do it for two full rotations, which is like six full minutes of solid gold. Somebody told me that all you need to do to promote the movie is put the entirety of that dance on YouTube and just let it go.
Laggies opens this weekend.