Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Starring: Keira Knightley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, Jeff Garlin, Gretchen Mol, Kaitlyn Dever
The climactic run to the airport is one of the great cliches of the romantic comedy. In Say When (released under the title Laggies Stateside), we get a climactic run not to an airport, but from one. This is a movie that takes the conventions of the rom-com and turns them on their head. While these movies usually feature a stunted man-child, Say When gives us a stunted woman-child. But for all its postmodern genre subversions, the movie still just feels like a middle of the road dramedy. If you spill ketchup on your sweatshirt, you can turn it inside out, but it's still just a sweatshirt with a ketchup stain.
Director Lynn Shelton leaves the mumblecore ghetto for the manicured world of the suburban rom-com, and she's a natural fit, which is a shame. Any indie sensibility you might expect Shelton to carry across is sadly absent. This is as polished and clean as a Katherine Heigl vehicle. There's a darkness to its protagonist, Megan (Knightley), that never gets explored in enough depth. Megan's narcissism is dismissed as "kookiness" in the hopes that the audience will accept her. The result is a character that remains stagnant throughout her supposed journey of self realisation.
The movie opens with murky video footage of Megan and her high school chums celebrating their prom night. Cut to present day, and Megan is now employed by her father (a sadly wasted Garlin) to hold a sign outside his office. She meets up with her friends, who all seem to be played by actresses who look a good decade older than Knightley, and it becomes clear they've matured well beyond her. While attending a friend's wedding, Megan's boyfriend pops the question, and in sheer panic she flees, ending up in the car park of a convenience store. It's there she meets Annika (Moretz), a high schooler who she quickly befriends after purchasing alcohol for her friends and demonstrating her skateboard skills. Needing time to assess her life in the light of her impending engagement, Megan hides out in Annika's house, but is soon discovered by her father (Rockwell), and things become further complicated when Megan falls for him.
The film's biggest problem is the casting of Knightley; she simply looks too young. Side by side, there isn't enough of an age contrast between Knightley and Moretz to fully mine the comedy from their friendship. After all, actresses of Knightley's age played Moretz' schoolmates in the Carrie remake. Conversely, some might argue that Rockwell's romancing of Knightley seems more inappropriate than her friendship with his daughter, given the greater age gap.
Knightley is charming in the role, but this isn't a character we should be charmed by. There are few differences between Megan and the narcissist Charlize Theron essayed in Young Adult, but Theron made us despise her version. Rockwell is always charismatic, but he's found himself stuck in a rut of playing the same sarcastic smartass in too many movies lately. Moretz takes a backseat in her scenes with Knightley, ironically delivering the movie's most mature performance. But the film is stolen, despite the brevity of her screen time, by Kaitlyn Dever, who broke hearts last year as a troubled teen in Short Term 12. Here she plays Moretz' chilled out friend, and lights up the screen with an effortless energy.
It might believe it's being innovative by subverting tropes, but Say When ultimately offers little new to the rom-com. Reversing genders and geographical directions can't save this tired sub-genre.
By Eric Hillis