Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) ****/*****

Not only is Kingsman: The Secret Service a secret agent movie, it’s a secret agent movie about suave, well-dressed, British secret agents—so it’s treading on some pretty well worn ground. Add in the fact that these fashionable spies use a variety of high tech gadgets in their work, they battle silly, cartoon villains, and they have a series of sprawling though hidden secret bases, and one begins to wonder what this new film could possibly have to offer that we haven’t already gotten from the countless James Bond movies that have been released since the early 60s. Well, while it’s true that Kingsman is definitely a very self-aware take on the Bond franchise, it’s also crasser, more overtly comedic, and more exploitively violent than most of what we’ve gotten from 007 over the years, which keeps things just fresh enough.

The hero of the story is a young man from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks named Eggsy (Taron Egerton). Though he’s smart and athletic and probably has a lot of potential, living life in a crime-riddled neighborhood with only a single mother to watch out for him has recently seen him making poor life decisions. A chance to turn it all around comes when he gets pegged to possibly become a Kingsman though. You see, his father was once a part of the organization, but died in the line of duty, so they feel like they owe the kid a favor, and seeing as they’ve just experienced their latest casualty thanks to a conflict with a megalomaniacal captain of industry (Samuel L. Jackson), the best way to do that is to add him to the highly capable group of young people who have been recruited to compete to be his replacement. Eggsy’s goals, then, are to earn his place as the newest Kingsman, help his new mentors in the agency (Colin Firth and Mark Strong) foil the plans of their dangerous new adversary, and prove to movie audiences all over the world that him doing so is an entertaining enough proposition for this origin story to launch a successful new franchise (presumably).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Short Round: Amira & Sam ***/*****

Writer/director Sean Mullin’s first stab at a feature, Amira & Sam, sticks pretty closely to the content and structural format of the modern romantic dramedy. It introduces two young people who chafe against each other initially but eventually fall in love, and then it introduces a moment of crisis that may or may not sabotage their blossoming relationship before it’s really started, leading to an emotional climax. It also manages to separate itself from the romantic dramedy pack in a couple of important ways though. The most obvious of which is that the two characters who are involved in the romance feel like real, three-dimensional people with actual problems and relatable faults, instead of being the affluent, insufferable, faux-hip ciphers that these movies usually tell stories about.

Amira & Sam stars Dina Shihabi as Amira, an Iraqi immigrant with a traumatic past who’s struggling to find her place in New York City, and Martin Starr as Sam, an Iraq war veteran who’s also having difficulties finding his place in the vapid cultural wasteland last was the United States somewhere presumably after the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but before the economic collapse of 2007. Starr is a great actor who I’ve been a fan of since his early days on Freaks & Geeks, so it was a lot of fun getting to see him play a lead role here and expand on what he’s been able to do with the supporting types of roles that he’s usually given, and while relative newcomer Shihabi is a new face to me, she’s such a lovely and live-wire presence here that I’m already confident we’ll be seeing much more of her in the very near future, so, if there are any problems with Amira & Sam, they definitely don’t come from the acting.

Instead, the problems that I had with the film, that other people may share, come from the writing. The script includes a handful of moments of effective comedy, and a handful of moments of affecting drama, but it’s also heavy-handed in the way it establishes the title characters as being likable and relatable, and some distracting phoniness creeps in as a consequence. This happens a bit because the greed and bigotry of many of the side characters comes off as being amplified and cartoony, which seems to have happened in order to paint our star-crossed couple as put-upon underdogs who we can root for, but the big problems stem from a subplot where Sam tries to dip his toes into the world of finance only to find that his morality doesn’t jibe with the shady dealings of Wall Street. The whole scenario could only have been written by someone who has the hindsight of watching the housing bubble burst and studying the causes of the collapse, which makes all of the dialogue we get about the bundling of mortgages and the undervaluing of the bundles some of the clunkiest and falsest-sounding I’ve heard in a movie in a while. And, even worse, none of it was necessary. Starr’s performance was already enough to get us to like and relate to the Sam character, we didn’t also need him to become a prognosticating warrior fighting for the safety of the underclass.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Paddington (2015) ****/*****

Sometimes the people who make “family films” forget that they’re supposed to be making something that the whole family can enjoy, and they fall into the trap of thinking that making little kids laugh is their only job. There’s also the mistaken notion that making little kids laugh is a simple matter of being loud and silly, and as long as you slip a few “adult” jokes into the abrasiveness in order to appease the parents who have been dragged to the theater, you’ve done your job. That’s lazy. Making movies that appeal to people of all ages in a legitimate way is possible, it’s just hard to do. It takes engaging storytelling, the creation of memorable characters, and humor that’s clever without being alienating and broad without being obnoxious. That’s what we’re dealing with here. When, in the first five minutes of Paddington, you’ve already been made to care about a couple of talking bears and you’ve already had a good belly laugh, you know that you’re in capable hands.

Paddington tells the story of the title character (who’s voiced by Ben Whishaw), an orphaned young bear from “Darkest Peru” who travels to London thanks to a promise a British explorer made his aunt and uncle long ago that, if they should ever find themselves in London, they would receive a warm welcome. You see, despite the fact that they are very much bears, Paddington and his family are a special kind of talking bears, who seem to be just as cultured and intelligent as humans. Why this is so is never really explained, which is one of the best things about the movie. Instead of coming up with a reason for why bears can talk, Paddington just assumes that the world is an interesting and magical enough place that it’s possible. Setting that kind of tone works great for drawing kids in and getting them excited about the possibilities a movie is putting before them, and it sets the stage perfectly for Paddington’s rocky road toward assimilating himself within the new human family he meets in London. You see, even when bears are smart, they still tend to break a lot of stuff.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Everly (2015) ***/*****

Everly is a boobs and blood movie, plain and simple. Its story is paper-thin—barely existent—and the two things it focuses all of its energy on doing are putting an absurd amount of violence on the screen and proving that Salma Hayek is a leading lady who’s still got it. Fans of B-movies and cinema exploitation are very much the targeted audience here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because all of the over-the-top deaths that director Joe Lynch and his team have conceived for this film are a lot of fun to watch be brought to splattery life, and Salma Hayek does indeed still got it. Boy, does she still got it. It’s not a sin for a movie to just want to be empty-headed and entertaining, is it?

There is a complication with tone that makes movies like this more difficult to pull off than they may seem though. Take the mayhem on display too seriously and the lack of a real story or any character complexity starts to look like a problem with the film, but wink at the audience and get too satirical with the bloodshed and you take all of the joy out of the ridiculousness. Movie cheese is less fun when it’s obvious the filmmaker is in on the joke. Fortunately, Everly is able to straddle this line by taking a comedy of errors approach to all of its endless killing.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Short Round: The Boy Next Door (2015) **/*****

If there was one thing I thought that the entire world could agree on, it’s that there’s no such thing as a sexy teenage boy. That was before I saw The Boy Next Door, however, which is a movie that sells itself on the titillating premise of Jennifer Lopez giving into the dark urge to indulge herself in some underaged man-meat, and then suffering the consequences of her indiscretion. Of course, the problem of there being no such thing as a sexy teenage boy was mitigated by director Rob Cohen (xXx, Stealth) casting 27-year-old Ryan Guzman as a high school kid, but that premise alone should still be enough to help you understand just how ridiculous and ill-conceived a movie this is. 

From Play Misty For Me to Fatal Attraction to Single White Female to Chuck and Buck, stalker stories have long been a staple of the thriller genre. They’re great for building tension, they tell a story that’s horrific but nonetheless grounded and relatable, and they generally make for a good excuse to inject some sex into a story. Maybe they don’t usually make for great art, but they almost always make for good trash entertainment. So, seeing as the second half of The Boy Next Door moves on from the salaciousness of J-Lo having an underage love affair to the terror of having said love affair turn into a dangerous stalker situation for her, you’d think that maybe the movie would still be able to entertain, if even in a half-ironic way. Unfortunately though, it’s not even competent enough to achieve that small level of success.

The Boy Next Door is a dumb movie—not just dumb in concept, but also dumb in execution. Its characters don’t act like people so much as they act like characters in a movie. They don’t speak like human beings so much as they speak like pawns in a melodrama who were conceived simply to drive a narrative forward. The disconnect between these people and the world they live in and real people and the real world is so severe that it becomes impossible to care about anything that happens to the Lopez character, or any of the peril she’s put in—which is ample. In fact, her stalker goes so over the top crazy, and the danger elements of the film get so broad and unbelievable, that a more charismatic actor could have used the antagonist role here to really chew some scenery and produce a potentially memorable bit of movie cheese, but Guzman is not that actor. He’s committed enough that he doesn’t embarrass himself, even when delivering bad material, but that’s the best that can be said of anyone involved in this production—they’ve made something bad, but something that’s too blandly bad for anyone to remember it or hold it against them in a month’s time. It’s probably best for everyone that we never speak of this movie again.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Short Round: Predestination (2015) ***/*****

Predestination is very much one of those movies where plot is the whole point. It’s full of ins and outs, twists and turns, and it demands that you dedicate the bulk of your attention to following along with its various narrative threads and fully absorbing how they eventually tie together. Because of this, it’s hard to discuss what the movie is about. To talk about its themes, conflicts, and ideas would give away too much and rob the movie of the bulk of its magic. When Predestination opens though, it’s clear that the main character is a time traveling cop of some sort played by Ethan Hawke, and it’s clear that his current mission is to use his time traveling powers to stop a series of bombings that happened in New York City in the mid-70s. There’s also a transgendered character played by Sarah Snook who ties into his investigation in some way. There. That’s all we’re going to give away.

You see, this is a movie from twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, who also co-wrote and co-directed a 2003 movie called Undead, where meteorites turned the populace of a fishing village into zombies, and the 2009 movie Daybreakers, which concerned itself with a future in which a plague had turned the bulk of humanity into blood-craving vampires, so it comes as no surprise that Predestination is heavily steeped in big science fiction concepts and biological weirdness. There probably hasn’t been a movie as concerned with the logistics of time travel and all of the paradoxes and time loops that come with them since 2004’s Primer, but unlike that Shane Carruth movie, which was known for its dryness and bordering-on-homework complexity, Predestination will likely become known for how pants-pooping crazy it is and how much fun it is to predict just how far it’s going to go with all the head-slapping silliness.

Despite the surface level fun of watching all of the plot pieces converge in the third act, Predestination is ultimately too mediocre a movie to strongly recommend to everyone though. Hawke and Snook are both good in their roles, but by “good” I mostly mean that they take characters and stories that should have played as being ridiculous and they’re able to ground them enough so that you stay with the story. And that story itself—it sure asks a lot of the viewer. While it pays itself off in the end, the pacing problems that come with it setting up all of the disparate pieces that eventually prove to be related are a series of hurdles that the audience has to leap over if they don’t want to get left behind. If you’re into time travel stories, the weirder corners of the sci-fi genre, and movies where Ethan Hawke tries to pull off a mustache, then Predestination will be worth giving a look to, but if none of those things sound like they’re in your wheelhouse, there will be plenty of more pleasing ways for you to spend an evening. Maybe a nice game of canasta?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inherent Vice (2014) *****/*****

One of the best things about the movies Paul Thomas Anderson makes is how rich and dense they are. They’re full of thematic dots that need to be connected, visual details that need to be noticed, and the revelatory sort of performances that are so fresh and nuanced that they send your mind racing off in a thousand different directions all at once. They’re the kind of movies you have to see more than once to feel fully comfortable with, and that tend to get better the more times that you see them. He’s a master director, and maybe the only one working who has the skill set necessary to make a worthy adaptation of one of the works of Thomas Pynchon, a novelist who’s also known for creating art that’s difficult to digest, though rewarding once you do so.

Inherent Vice is the fruits of Anderson’s attempt at bringing Pynchon to the big screen. It’s a drug and sun-soaked detective story set in 1970 LA that has more to do with the mourning of lost love and the corruption of the 60s counter culture thanks to its poisonous introduction to sex-crazed cult figures and heroine than it does to presenting you with an actual mystery or introducing you to a protagonist who does any real detective work. Said protagonist, Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), is much more of an observer than he is anything else—an incorruptible figure who’s pushed through a gauntlet of deceit and wrongdoing by a femme fatale ex-girlfriend named Shasta (Katherine Waterston) so that we can see if he’s able to come through the other end still pure and in one piece. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Selma (2014) ****/*****

Biopics of famous historical figures are probably my least favorite type of film that Hollywood habitually releases, and there are a couple reasons for that. The first is a matter of focus. Too often these movies feel an obligation to cover the entirety of their subject’s life, from childhood to death, and they suffer from their attempts at cramming too much in. A lifetime is made up of thousands of stories, and when you try to touch on all of them you can’t help but give each short shrift. The second reason is the problem with recreating iconic imagery. When you’re recreating moments that have been replayed and reabsorbed by an entire culture time and time again over the course of decades, your recreation can’t help but distract the audience with its creepifying inauthenticity. Thankfully, Ava DuVernay has avoided these potential problems by making a Martin Luther King movie that focuses on one specific period of the man’s life rather than glossing over its entirety, and that doesn’t include his legendary “I have a dream” speech anywhere in its run time.

Selma manages to get to the heart of who King was as a person and what it was like for him to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement of the 60s by lasering its focus in on one critical period of the man’s life—when he was organizing a march from Selma, Alabama to the capital building in Birmingham in order to protest the extreme levels of voter suppression that blacks were experiencing in the state. Despite the fact that this event is only one piece of a very large puzzle when it comes to the things that King and his supporters were able to accomplish over the course of their efforts, it alone is enough to convey to us the personal toll that dedicating your life to a cause puts on a public figure, the shrewd politicking that’s necessary to bring about even the most righteous and idealistic change, and the danger that comes with confronting people’s prejudices and trying to change beliefs that they very passionately hold. By not being the typical biopic of a historical figure, Selma manages to be one of the rare entries in the genre that actually accomplishes what every one of these movies should be setting out to do—giving us a window into the everyday humanity of their iconic subjects.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Short Round: The Interview (2014) ***/ *****

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been writing movies together for a while, and with last year’s This is The End they even branched out to becoming co-directors. If you’ve seen anything that they’ve made together so far, then you pretty much know what to expect from The Interview. It’s an irreverent comedy that’s more concerned with wiener jokes than it is in telling any kind of straight-faced story. It’s pop culturally aware and far more concerned with making references to current trends than it is in creating something that will become an evergreen classic. It’s a trifle, really. A well made and often funny trifle, but a trifle nonetheless. The biggest hurdle it’s likely to face when it comes to pleasing audiences, then, is that its subject matter has thrust it into a global spotlight and built up big expectations around what should have just been a disposable comedy.

In case you somehow missed the controversy, The Interview sees Rogen and James Franco playing an ambitious TV producer and a witless talk show host who manage to land an exclusive interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), and who get recruited by the CIA to use the opportunity as a chance to assassinate the young megalomaniac. Due to the potentially politically charged subject matter, cyberattacks were perpetrated, terrorist threats followed, and the film’s planned release was eventually scrapped in favor of a much smaller theatrical release and a simultaneous VOD rollout that came days later. It’s been a big deal, an international incident that even the President felt the need to comment on, and the way it’s turned watching this movie into an act of protest rather than the minor diversion it was designed to be is likely to earn it some backlash.

All we should really be discussing is whether The Interview works as a comedy though, and in a general way it does. It’s a little slow to get going, but once Rogen and Franco’s characters actually make it into North Korea, things start to pick up and then never let up. Probably the highlight of the film is Franco’s chemistry with Park, as the two play their characters like giddy school girls whenever they get together and the results can be infectious to watch. In general, it’s Franco’s dumb guy act that really keeps this movie from being a stinker, as he’s always best when he’s going big with his performances, and the clueless nature of his character not only allows him to do that here, it also imbues the film with an aggressively empty-headed and lowbrow approach to comedy that feels almost transcendentally appropriate given all of the political hand-wringing its release has caused. Relax, it seems to assure us, movies are supposed to be fun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) **/*****

While Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is a landmark series of films that will go down in history as being seminal works, his prequel trilogy, The Hobbit, has been a mixed bag that has produced diminishing returns. At this point, this is the sixth film that Jackson has made that’s set in this same world, striking this same tone, and that has a run time that’s well over two hours. Even for huge fans of the overall franchise, the magic has to be running out. Truth be told, though The Hobbit started off as a less than perfect though perfectly entertaining companion piece to The Lord of the Rings, with this final chapter, The Battle of the Five Armies, the series as a whole has revealed itself to be quite a tedious slog.

If you’ve seen the first two Hobbit movies, then you should have a good idea of what this one is about. If you haven’t, then you’re going to be confused, because Five Armies exists as little more than an extended action climax that caps off all of the setup that was put into place by the first two films. When The Desolation of Smaug ended, the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) had left his home in The Lonely Mountain and was heading toward the nearest town, presumably with the intention of destroying it and killing everyone who lives there. When we pick things up in this film, that’s just what’s happening. The dragon attack is big and spectacular and starts the film off on an exciting note. And then another big action scene follows it. And another. And another. It doesn’t take long before the sight of hoards of CG beings smashing into each other becomes numbing and boring.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Short Round: Foxcatcher (2014) **/*****

After directing Capote and Moneyball, Bennett Miller has become fairly renowned for being a go-to guy when it comes to biopics. So you’d think that him tackling the life of John du Pont—who was an heir to a fortune, weirdly obsessed with amateur wrestling, and who suffered from issues with self esteem and mental illness that eventually led to him committing a murder and being incarcerated—would make for a pretty amazing movie. Unfortunately, this time around, it doesn’t. Miller isn’t a director who I’ve found to be too on the nose in the way he tells stories before, but for some reason his hand gets fairly heavy here (through extraneous use of flashbacks, camera work that over emphasizes what we’re supposed to be feeling about a scene, etc…), and the result is a movie that contains individual scenes that are good on their own, but that doesn’t work as a whole.

Probably the thing about Foxcatcher that’s earning it the most attention is its performances, which makes sense, because Steve Carell is really going out on a limb as du Pont, and Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are burning an equal amount of calories playing David and Mark Schultz, a pair of Olympic gold medal earning brothers who get sucked into du Pont’s bubble of influence thanks to his obsession with wrestling, and eventually suffer negative consequences because of it. Each performer doesn’t work to the same result, however. Ruffalo is absolutely amazing here, disappearing so completely into the older brother David that you never once catch him performing. Tatum and Carrell are a different story. Tatum is so forcefully playing the younger brother Mark as a hulking, confused, lump of focus and simplicity, that to behold him on screen is like laying eyes on a cave man. But at times he goes a bit far and it feels like he’s doing a caveman impression—and poor Carrell fairs even worse. He’s really making a go of it as du Pont, but they’ve got him buried in so many stupid looking prosthetics and have dressed him in so many silly outfits that it’s never not clear that you’re watching Steve Carell play-acting a wacky character.

The main problem with Foxcatcher is that it’s boring though. Slow burns can be effective, especially when they’re building up to as big a moment as this film is, but this one goes beyond being a slow burn. This movie is barely ever smoldering. It’s so much longer than it needs to be, it spends too much time on scenes that don’t actively drive the narrative forward, and it asks us to be far too interested in the day to day existences of characters who exist as little more than blank slates with one critical personality flaw. There’s no life, no humor, no anything in this script other than a slight awkward tension in the interactions between the principals that’s just barely able to keep you from turning it off. Foxcatcher is a story that may have been worth 100 or so minutes of screen time, but at 134 minutes it gets sunk by its own weight.

Short Round: The Babadook (2014) ***/*****

For a first time writer/director of a feature, Jennifer Kent did an amazing job making The Babadook. Seeing as the film doesn’t seem to be getting praised as a strong effort from a first time director though, I fear that it could generate something of a backlash. Currently there are a number of respected voices praising the movie as being an instant classic and an immediate member of the horror canon, and it seems to me that such a large amount of hype could cause audiences to come out of it feeling disappointed when they eventually get a chance to see it (currently it’s not playing on too many screens, but is available on VOD if you know to search for it). I guess what I’m saying is that the best way to watch The Babadook would be to go into it expecting to see a typical, overdone haunted house movie, and then come out of it pleasantly surprised that it’s actually got a couple of assets that help to raise it a step above the rabble.

The main thing that the film has going for it is the lead performance of Essie Davis, who’s playing a single mother whose house is plagued with supernatural happenings after she reads her son a children’s book about an insidious figure named Mr. Babadook that seems to invite demonic energy into their lives. Her character goes from sad, to terrified, to manic, to menacing over the course of the film, and she’s able to sell absolutely everything that’s asked of her. Perhaps more impressively though, even though she’s put through a traumatic amount of stressful and annoying situations, she’s able to make you identify and sympathize so much with her character that you never want the camera to cut away from her, no matter how much her ordeal is making you squirm in your seat. The other main character, her son, isn’t realized quite as well. He’s played by newcomer Noah Wiseman, a youngster who the script simply asks too much of. He has scenes where he needs to go big and broad and sell rage, panic, and screaming insanity to the audience, and it’s just more than he can muster—and perhaps more than any actor his age could muster. The scenes where he’s freaking out are supposed to have real weight to them, but when you watch them you can’t help but feel like you’re just watching a little kid being silly.

That they go so far with the kid losing control is part of the other big reason this movie is better than your typical evil spirit movie, however. The horror of this film comes not only from the usual malevolent presence, but also from the crushing responsibilities of being a parent. The typical trials and tribulations of parenthood, and how they’re able to sometimes make even the best parents resent their children, get amplified so thoroughly here that the stress they cause skyrockets off the charts, to the point where you begin to believe that the misbehaving/uncompromising child could have been the only antagonist in the film, and it still would have been just as scary. The way that being haunted by an evil spirit would interrupt your life gets woven in with the way that having a child does interrupt your life, and presenting the two situations next to each other provides the film with quite a bit of meaty thematics for the audience to chew on—which is a pretty unusual thing to say about a movie in this genre, and is probably the big reason that it’s earning so much praise.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interstellar (2014) ****/*****

After all of the profits he generated by making the Dark Knight movies and Inception, filmmaker Christopher Nolan basically had carte blanche to spend as much money as he wanted making whatever movie he wanted the next time around. Similarly, after all the universally praised work that he’s been doing over the course of the last few years, Matthew McConaughey has become essentially free to star in whatever projects he chooses. Given all of that rarified power, what both men chose to do is to work with each other on Interstellar, a science fiction movie about a dying Earth, the ties that bind us together as a species, and a last-ditch gambit to find a way to keep our species—and, by proxy, that connection—alive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Interstellar is an event movie—large in hype, scale, visual splendor, and storytelling ambition. This isn’t just a story about how humanity deals with a crisis, though it is that. It isn’t just a story about a regular man who gets called on to do an extraordinary thing, though it’s that as well. It’s a big screen adventure. It’s a meditation on the relationships between fathers and daughters. It’s that sort of genre-heavy “hard sci-fi” story that’s more concerned with exploring future possibilities and imaginative ideas than it is in being pure escapism—all while still being pure escapism. When you factor in all of the things that Interstellar is trying to do in one movie, it becomes clear that it really is an attempt at creating one of those sweeping, mythic pieces of art that’s looking to provide answers to all of the big questions of life, the universe, and everything. And, sure, maybe it isn’t quite able to pull all of those lofty goals off, but it is still refreshing to see a mainstream release that’s got the chutzpah to try.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Short Round: Laggies (2014) ***/*****

The film industry creates no shortage of indie movies about characters who are old enough to be adults, but who nonetheless live in a state of depressed, arrested development. That doesn’t mean that these movies can’t still be good if they find a unique voice or are made especially well though. Lynn Shelton is the kind of director who likes to make loosely-scripted, improv-heavy, small-scale, realist movies, so they too need to bring a little something extra to the table in order to be good. Her Your Sister’s Sister cast found an amazing chemistry and created an amazing movie together as a result, while her more recent film, Touchy Feely, came off as more of an unfocused mess. Laggies, which is both a lost young adult movie as well as a Lynn Shelton movie, is a solid-though-unspectacular effort that puts it not only right in the middle of the pack of slacker movies, but also somewhere right in between the spontaneous joy of Your Sister’s Sister and the frustrating faults of Touchy Feely. What that means to you will probably depend on how strongly you respond to the genre and the creator.

Laggies is about a girl who’s probably somewhere in her late 20s, named Megan (Keira Knightley). After a decade or so of hanging out with the same group of friends she’s had since high school, Megan comes to realize that everyone she knows has turned into married, careered, dead-eyed yuppies, while she still feels that exploratory spark of youth and has yet to figure out what she wants her life to be. One proposal from her painfully earnest-though-lame longtime boyfriend (Mark Webber) later and Megan reaches a crisis point. Is she really ready to lock in to this kind of traditional existence? Retreating, our would-be hero ends up skipping out on her responsibilities and loved ones and holing up in the bedroom of a random high school girl (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz) who she meets outside of a liquor store. As if this wasn’t intrigue enough, even more conflict creeps into the picture when, after running away from her own problems, Megan then finds herself deeply involved in the troubles of not only this young girl, but also the frazzled-though-charismatic single father (Sam Rockwell) who’s been raising her.

Overall, Laggies is good but not great, though if there is one aspect of the film that elevates it above mediocrity and makes it worth seeking out, it’s the lead performance given by Knightley. She’s an actress who I’ve been hot and cold on in the past, but after what she accomplished here, I feel as though I’ve reached the point where I’m sold on her as a leading lady completely. Not only is she great at playing open-wound vulnerability (a refreshing change from all the repressed period picture performances of her early career) while letting every nuance of emotion that her character feels play over her naturally emotive face, but she’s also able to impress with the chemistry she’s able to conjure with her co-stars, which is just off the charts. Whether she’s lending an ear to Moretz’s confused kid or trading quips with Rockwell’s lonely adult, you absolutely believe in the onscreen relationships as they’re developed; which is essential to a movie like this whose premise is so inherently ludicrous. A movie about an adult hiding out in a teenager’s bedroom probably should have been a train wreck, but in the hands of the people involved here, it’s more like a train ride—maybe not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, but it certainly has its charms.