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SAY WHEN (Laggies) – Review
November 5, 2014
It looks like this year Keira Knightley has lined up an interesting mix of charming roles on the silver screen that show off her versatility and prove she doesn’t necessarily need a period attire or an iconic literary heroine in order to shine, at least not all of the times. Personally I’m wooed way more by present time Keira like in this summer’s delightfully underrated Begin Again where she plays a struggling folk singer/songwriter alongside an equally lovable Mark Ruffalo. And while we wait for her latest period role coming up next week in The Imitation Game where she actually doesn’t portray a fictional character but a real life one, this week it’s time to get won over by yet another wonderful appearance of this British national treasure in poignant indie dramedy Say When which premiered last January at the Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by talented filmmaker Lynn Shelton whose smart and fresh voice has already shown plenty of promise recently with Your Sister’s Sister (2011) and Touchy Feely (2013), the film is the screenplay debut of young adult narrative author Andrea Seigel (The Kid Table) and it’d be interesting to ask her whether the story was originally conceived as a new novel idea since it fits thematically well within the realm of her prose. Surely I was intrigued to see how this time around Shelton directs off of a script she didn’t write herself, given her unique and distinct storytelling voice and it seems like she’s picked an ideal project to tackle as a non-writer.
Say When is a classic tale of quarter life crisis that kicks off using the opening credits quite cleverly as a thematic prologue to the story. As the titles flow on the screen we’re shown the home video of typical prom night shenanigans from a group of teen best friends. Flash forward to a now 28 year old Megan (Knightley), our protagonist, who attends the (lame) bachelorette party of one of those high school friends and immediately feels uneasy and out of place. Megan is far from having figured out her life: she still works as a sign flipper for her father’s accounting company and lives with her high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) although she often crashes at her parents to watch TV all day rather than looking for a proper job.
When Anthony proposes to her on the dance floor at their friend’s wedding, Megan has a freak out moment and runs off claiming she’s been a bad bridesmaid and forgot to pick up rose petals. Outside the supermarket she drives to, she bumps into Annika (young talent Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends, a gang of teens with skateboards trying to find someone to buy them booze. Megan agrees to what she calls a necessary rite of passage she also went through but then winds up roaming around with the kids all night, drinking and forgetting about the wedding reception.
Needless to say how that ignites plenty of angry-judgmental reactions in her just married friend and the rest of the group despite justifying her sudden departure with feeling unwell but the real issue is dealing with Anthony and his proposal. She obviously isn’t ready but she’s also afraid to let go of what’s comfortable and sure for the big scary unknown. What she needs is some time to reflect and understand what she wants, so opportunity presents itself when Annika calls her up asking her to pretend to be her mother at a guidance counselor meeting.
Yes, this is the first bit of a stretch you need to get on board with in order to fully enjoy the film because the big stretch comes right after, when Megan asks Annika a huge favour in return: crashing at her place for a week while she figures herself out. Megan has agreed to marry Anthony and run away to Vegas with him to elope but she pretends she’s going to attend a career seminar/retreat first, claiming that she needs to put her life back on track before the big step. When Annika reveals she lives with her single, workaholic lawyer dad (an always brilliant Sam Rockwell) since her mom left them to pursue a catalogue-modeling career, Megan seizes the chance to get the alone time she needs.
Once Annika’s dad finds out what’s happening under his roof, it’s not hard to predict where things might be headed, yet Say When manages to get there in an organic and natural way despite the preposterousness of its set up. Sam Rockwell is great at conveying the world-weary single dad who truly cares about his daughter despite the hardships of raising her by himself. The way he tackles the issue of a grown-up stranger hiding in his house and hanging out with his teenage daughter is handled authentically and entertainingly so.
Sure, you might consider the thematic juxtaposition of a young woman with a quarter life crisis and a disoriented teenage girl with lack of self-confidence a bit on the nose, especially if you also take into account the disillusioned dad who thinks “that might be it” for his life. But that’s where you need to leave your cynical side at home and enjoy the feel-good ride of “it’s never too late to figure yourself out or start fresh.” It’d be ideal to sort ourselves out as early as possible in order to struggle less in life but then it’s also very true how life can’t be meticulously planned out and we need to be open to change and opportunities.
The film’s original title in the US is actually “Laggies” a colloquial term apparently popular among teenagers in Orange County to define someone who drags along and dwells before finally taking action. Despite re-setting the story in her beloved Washington State, Lynn Shelton has kept the cryptic title for its uniqueness and ability to capture the essence of Megan and Annika, two young women with an age gap but similar issues who help each other out to grow up and grow out of their insecurities. It may be just a film but its themes are very relatable, especially in times like these where career options and job security have become a rarity. Say When is far from telling us something new but it’s charming and entertaining enough to make you suspend your disbelief and find comfort in its hopeful message.
Say When is out in UK cinemas on November 7th
Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor