Laggies

Laggies is a low-key indie comedy about a woman named Megan who is adrift at life. (What? An indie comedy about an adrift person? Inconceivable!) Megan has been friends with the same people since she was in high school, but they've moved on with their lives and she has not. They are getting married to people they really like, but she's stuck in a relationship she's ambivalent about because it's easy and she's afraid of change. Her friends are moving forward in the careers they've picked for themselves while she's unemployed, directionless and constantly hitting her father up for charity. Her friends are becoming less and less cool but more and more functional, while she's maintaining the same level of not-really-cool and not-particularly-functional that she had when she was a teen.

However, Megan's life takes an interesting turn after some high schoolers stop her outside a grocery store and ask her to buy them some beer. She ends up spending the night drinking with them, and gossiping with them, and trying to remember how to do skateboard tricks. It's the most relaxed and fun evening she's had in years, and she immediately wants to do it again. Before long she has formed a bond with Annika, a teen who is very much living the carefree adolescent life that Megan wishes she was still living. Unfortunately, her relationship with with Annika has a stumbling block: Annika's dad instantly sees Megan as the bad influence that she is, and he's suspicious of why someone who is nearly thirty would want to hang out with his much younger daughter.

A lesser film would present Annika and her dad as a simple dichotomy for Megan to choose between: on the one hand you've got someone who is carefree but immature and powerless, and on the other hand you have someone who is weighted down by responsibility, but who is confident that he's accomplishing something good with his life. However, Laggies is more subtle than that, because these people's problems can't be put into boxes that are that neatly defined. Yes, Megan is trapped because she has obviously outgrown one stage without fully growing into the other, but she's also stuck because even if she did decide "I'm going to commit to being an adult" what does that mean? If there is a straightforward path to "maturity" then she doesn't see it in front of her. And Annika's life isn't all fun all the time,  because she has dark emotions, too, particularly around her very complicated relationship with her mother. And when Annika's father gets honest with Megan he admits to having the same existential doubts that Megan does, too, it's just that he can't just walk away from his responsibility to his daughter.

On paper Laggies might sound a bit cliché, but it actually hit me right where I live, in large part because I'm around Megan's age and have some of her same problems. It's not that I'm against the idea of working hard and being a grown up, but I'm just not always sure what I should be working hard at, or what being a grown up really means. And I think that's actually a really common experience that we're all kind of afraid to talk about; sometimes I honestly wonder how many of us feel a bit like fakes in our everyday lives.

I don't have Megan's exact problem – I've never been much of a partier and I have no interest in returning to high school, because while that time in my life was reasonably pleasant I do think my life has gotten richer since then – but I could still sympathize with her struggle. I think both of us have a sense that we signed up for one war and then found ourselves in another. We expected adult life to be the sort of affair where two opposing forces lined up in a field and marched towards each other, but instead we found ourselves in jungle warfare where the enemy is invisible and omnipresent. I excelled when I was younger and the guidelines were clear - I went from elementary school to middle school to high school and ultimately to college with consistently good grades and a reasonable sense of accomplishment. But as soon as I was out of the school pipeline and off on my own I started to have a harder time telling whether or not I was doing a good job, because I wasn't sure what job I was supposed to be doing and because no one was grading me anymore. Honestly, it's kind of maddening. I miss the structure that teens have; they are surrounded by people who are telling them what to do who seem to know what they are doing. Sure, you have to chafe a little bit at being bossed around, but doesn't that also sound a little comforting deep down? Wouldn't that settle a few of these damn self doubts? At the very least it allows you to blame someone else for your problems.

The secret to Laggies' success is that it attempts to deal with Megan's adriftness in a fairly honest way. Most movies about aimless people end with them accepting that they "just have to grow up!" but Laggies knows that's not really the answer. After all, even people who have real jobs and real responsibilities often still have a nagging sense that they are an imposter or an underachiever, so putting on a particular type of suit and going to a specific type of job isn't guaranteed to erase an unsure person's anxiety. No, the important thing is to find some sort of workable structure for your life, and that's why the choice between Annika's way of life and her father's way of life is so interesting, because both of them are doing exactly what they are expected to be doing at this time in their life - but neither of those choices is a perfect fit for Megan (or necessarily even a perfect fit for Annika or her dad.)

At first Megan is interested in Annika because the idea of purposeful hedonism appeals to her, but she also understands that only a teenager can achieve something by acting out and partying hard; now that Megan has already figured out what getting drunk feels like, now that she's already established her boundaries with the world, the only thing she can achieve by drinking too much is a hangover. But just because she's lost the structure of her old way of life doesn't mean that it makes sense to go hard in the other direction - seeing how stressful it is to be a lawyer with a mortgage confirms her hunch that a completely structured way of life might not be for her.

No, the important thing is that she has to start the process of searching for a middle path, even though she's daunted by the very real prospect that she might never find it. Once you become an adult you need to have some sense that other adults are as full of shit as you are, and you should intuit that the reason why your elders stopped grading you is because they know that they lost the ability to bullshit you about how they know all about the secret metrics of accomplishment and you don't. But you also need to be aware that the Emerald City still needs a mayor, regardless of whether the person in charge is a Wizard or a regular dude in a booth. Like everyone else, Megan has to try to achieve some personally defined level of success, even if that success is always going to feel partial or arbitrary, because you can't go through life paralyzed with indecision. Oh, you can try - but even if you never outgrow the urge to hang out in a parking lot doing skateboard tricks with high schoolers there is going to be a point where the high schoolers out grow you, and where they won't let the creepy person who never moved on keep hanging out with them. The existential jungle warfare that is adult life might be a bitch, but one way or another we're in it, so you might as well try to survive as best you can.

Winner: Me

Laggies on IMDB