Sunday, October 29, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: #16. "Laggies" (2014)

Scene from Laggies
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Released: October 24, 2014
Release Number: 16
Directed By: Lynn Shelton
Written By: Andrea Seigel
Starring: Keira Knightley, Chloe Moretz, Sam Rockwell
In the throes of a quarter-life crisis, Megan panics when her boyfriend proposes, then, taking an opportunity to escape for a week, hides out in the home of her new friend, 16-year-old Annika, who lives with her world-weary single dad.

The second year of A24 was starting to come to a close, but there wasn't much to celebrate. Sure, films like Under the Skin and Enemy had started the year off on a great note, but the months that followed were dominated by critically panned and financially unsuccessful movies that made the studio's brilliant first year seem like one of the greatest flukes of the decade. While director Lynn Shelton's Laggies was a modest hit by comparison, it was the start of the upswing with a story about a woman (Keira Knightley) who was having a "quarter-life crisis." It was a film that saw the indie director in a more challenging position as she created a delightful comedy meant to prove that women were just as likely to "flounder" as men. It may have not been anything exceptional, but it was the studio's most successful film in months.

The story for Laggies began on a street corner. Writer Andrea Seigel was driving by when she noticed a young woman twirling a sign. She was enthusiastic and doing her best to draw attention. This caused Siegel to wonder about this woman's interior life. What lead her to this decision? The results became the screenplay, which had an equally unique name. To Siegel, the term of "laggies" was commonplace, meaning someone who was lagging in life. However, Shelton later discovered that this was only common to Siegel and her friends. After some contemplation, Shelton decided to keep the name for her movie by using the logic that nobody else was going to call the movie that. Along with this detail, Shelton bonded over Siegel's screenplay because she liked the idea of creating a female story about struggle. She would cite The Graduate as her comparison for the male version of the story, of which she would claim has been done to death by that point.

It was Shelton's first screenplay that she didn't write. It was also one of the few movies that was more reliant on script than improvisation. This was also her first multi-million dollar movie, clocking in at a budget of $7 million. She had initially sought to work with Anne Hathaway and had spent months in preparation for the role. However, scheduling conflicts on her other films Song One and Interstellar caused her to eventually back out of the lead role. This would go to Keira Knightley, who seemed like an odd choice at the time. She was more known for period pieces (including her other 2014 movie The Imitation Game) and overall didn't fit Shelton's initial vision. Knightley was British, but Shelton's affection for Bend It Like Beckham caused her to take a chance, believing that there was some charm in her comedic abilities.

The film shot around Washington over 23 days in June of 2013. Among Shelton's favorite events on set was an early moment when Knightley reenacted the scene that inspired Siegel's screenplay. There was worry that Knightley's exuberant public performance while spinning a sign would draw attention to her. Shelton eventually let the event play out naturally while shooting across the street. Despite being a major star in films like Pirates of the Caribbean, Knightley was never recognized. Much like Shelton, Knightely's interest in the film came from her belief that Generation Y was always in crisis and that the story would appeal to people going through issues at any given age. Among the noteworthy supporting cast was a California Desert Turtle named Lynn. She was not named for Shelton, though she was originally in the script with more importance to the story. Before starring in the movie, she was a school pet at a local Seattle school.

Much like Shelton's previous work, Laggies would make its premiere at Sundance. It was met with generally positive reviews and an intense bidding war that landed the film at A24. While the film had been scheduled for a summer released, it settled into the Fall movie season where it had a small release and would earn $1.7 million at the box office. On critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the film scored a 67%, which was the highest rated A24 film since The Rover, which was only 1% lower. Leah Pickett of Consequence of Sound praised its unique voice, claiming that "A shrewd little dramedy directed by a woman, written by a woman and told from a woman's perspective, which on those merits alone constitutes a rare and special film worth seeing." There was also a group that leaned more towards the sort of positive side, like Daniel Barnes' Sacramento News and Review with "Pleasantly forgettable." On the lesser side was Robert W. Butler of Kansas Star, who claimed that "Every filmmaker is allowed a few career missteps. Lynn Shelton seems to have spent all hers on just one movie." Overall, the praise was tepid, but highlighted Knightley's charm despite a somewhat conventional or predictable movie.

Laggies may have not been the studio's greatest movie, but it was the start of an upswing towards A24's second coming in 2015 when they would start producing Oscar-winning movies. For now, they would settle on a cute indie comedy that told a woman's story from her own perspective. It was enough to make the charmer a worthwhile hit, even if it wasn't anything exceptional. Up next would be the last film for 2014, and one that would allude at what's to come. With an up-and-coming Oscar Isaac in the lead role, A Most Violent Year was arguably the first movie geared towards prestige during awards season. Much like Laggies, it would also benefit from great promotion and a movie that proved that the studio had more to offer than B-level content. They could release a whopper every now and then.

Up Next: A Most Violent Year (2014)

No comments:

Post a Comment