Lynn Shelton’s Say When (or in its original US title Laggies) is like Jon Favreau’s Chef a film that possibly winds me up more than most people. Both are immensely irritating examples of what US ‘independent’ cinema seems to have come to, soft, liberal, wish fulfilment stories about America’s middle class that are about as edgy as a bowl of granola.
Anyway, Say When / Laggies seems to be hitting streaming services now, so I have exhumed my revolted review for the late Verite film magazine blog now it is officially offline. Enjoy.
28 year old Megan (Kiera Knightley) suffers an early-onset mid-life-crisis when her Andrex puppy of a boyfriend uses the occasion of her best friend’s wedding reception to make a fumbling proposal. She tries to get some air and spies a woman (to whom she is not related) fumbling with her father’s pants by the bins out back. Catapulted over an existential Rubicon Megan snaps into flight response and runs away from the situation using bridesmaid’s duties as an excuse.
An unbelievable escape plan presents itself when Megan meets teenage Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) loitering around a liquor store trying to find an adult to buy beer. Not so far away from having been a teenager herself she chooses to help out and ends up hanging out being a cool big sister. Now ‘down with the kids’ she finds herself first roped into pretending to be Annika’s absent mother in a meeting with the school guidance officer, and then sleeping on the teen’s floor whilst lying to her not-quite-fiancé that she is on a career guidance retreat.
What would you know, Annika has a super-cool divorce lawyer single dad who is improbably unsuccessful on the dating scene (Sam Rockwell). And from this point on you can probably complete a detailed synopsis and make a reasonable guess as to the song that will play over the end credits.
Part of a growing trend in American independent cinema of films exploring the effect of no dramatic tension whatsoever on drama (see also Chef), Say What is as non-descript and flavorless as its anodyne title would suggest. The US title was Laggies, a term not really explained in the film, but a glance at urban dictionary gives a number of options the most apt of which being: ‘Dragging along. That feeling when you are half asleep and barely making it through the day. Unenjoyable. Elongated days. Dreary. ’
Shelton’s film – from a screenplay by Andrea Siegel – is deeply annoying, dramatically contrived, unconvincing, and dishonest. It affects a distaste for conventional hetero-normative relationships only to ultimately endorse them with the caveat that romance is okay if it’s between characters deemed ‘cool’.
A kind of faux-sassy, ironic, self-directed misogyny runs all through the film. It presents itself as a female empowerment narrative, and yet constantly presents crude female caricatures as secondary characters, the ‘Bride-zilla’, the ‘terrible mother’ (who is an underwear model to boot), judgmental friends obsessed with social status, a crass hen-night party wearing flashing pink plastic penises around their necks and novelty hats. Meanwhile, with the arguable exception of Megan’s disappointing father, the male characters are all super-nice.
While the performances are perfectly serviceable – Knightley has perfected an American accent now – none of the central trio of characters are at all convincing. Megan is nails-on-a-blackboard annoying. It’s like Shelton and Siegel saw Todd Solondz’ Dark Horse and thought ‘let’s do that, only let’s make the protagonist female, attractive, and let’s give her what she wants!’ Moretz’ character seems more mature and together than any of the adults despite the calls from the guidance councillor and mommy issues. Rockwell lights up the film by bringing his trademark hip energy, but is really just coasting.