Lynn Shelton on Kicking it with Keira Knightley

Director Lynn Shelton, the indie auteur behind festival darlings such as Humpday and Touchy Feely, has undertaken her biggest project yet with Laggies, a film that probes the increasingly relevant struggle of millennial maladjustment. The film stars Keira Knightley as Megan, a woman in her late 20’s railing against the pressure to find a career and a husband, and instead befriends a high school student and her father, played respectively by Chloe Grace Moretz and Sam Rockwell, who help put her burgeoning adulthood into much needed context. Milk Made spoke to Shelton about putting this film together and what it really means to act like an adult.

So for the kids at home….what’s a laggie?

(laughs) It’s funny because the word came from the writer, Andrea Siegel, who said she used the term all the time with her teenage buddies. She was surprised to learn that I didn’t know what that meant, and for a while I thought I was crazy because I was the only one that didn’t know. But it soon became clear that she and her friends made this word up and no one else in the world knows what this is. You can kind of guess what it is, someone that lags behind, but the title is actually a bit of a mislead. I don’t believe that Megan is somebody who’s failing to launch, a failure to mature. I think what actually is going on is her failing to fall into a conventional timeline of what society tells her an adult should be. As soon as she hangs out with actual teenagers she becomes aware that she is more of an adult than she thought. So she realizes that she just has to write her own script, define for herself what adulthood means.

This is by all accounts your biggest production yet.

Yes! I got to get into a helicopter and take aerial shots! Yeah baby!

So getting ready for that kind of undertaking…was it exciting? Nerve-wracking? Both?

Both, yeah. It was helpful that I’ve worked on so many television shows that I was very comfortable around a lot of trucks, trailers, a big crew, all the gear. The first time that I did a tv show, Mad Men, was daunting and I had to shadow a director. But now I can walk on set in a studio and feel okay. As a director my job is exactly the same, it’s just on a much larger scale.

You had a bit of a rocky road assembling this cast, Keira joined relatively late in the game, correct?

Yes. We initially had Anne Hathaway join, and then Chloe and Sam came on. And to their credit they didn’t abandon ship when Anne had to drop out. And it really didn’t take long to get Keira to fill that hole. She is just so fun to work with, and so sweet and openhearted. So I feel so blessed to have gotten the cast we did, regardless of the setbacks.

So many moments in the film were really tied together with your camerawork meshing so well with the actors. What is your process like when actually filming?

You know, more planning went in with this project than anything I’ve ever worked on, we really carefully shot-listed and prepared all of our angles. The scene with Keira and her boyfriend in the airport near the end of the film for example needed a lot of attention. For me, I’m much more interested in getting a really nice shot that is pleasing to the eye while saying a lot, I’m all about faces and the camera conveying relationships. I try and pack as much emotional content into each individual shot as I can.

Keira’s face in that scene alone just broke my heart.

Good! I wanted to break your heart!

You’re considered to be one of the preeminent filmmakers of the movement in indie cinema known as ‘mumblecore.’ Is that an accurate appraisal? Is ‘Laggies’ a mumblecore film?

Oh God no! Laggies is not a mumblecore film, that term to me is something that is of the past. When mumblecore was first written about it was described as white guys in their early 20’s making films about their generation. My first films, and Humpday especially, were kind of slotted into that category, but obviously I don’t fit that description. At that point I was 40 and a woman with a family, so my films broadened that initial concept of what that meant. That said, being classified into a movement can be very helpful in raising interest for a film, so it was useful for a number of folks getting their start. It drew us all into this nice web, and we had this collaborative connection which was great, but I think we’ve all moved onto different stages. I should probably edit my Wikipedia page to reflect that, I haven’t looked at it in years.

This is one of the most pertinent movies I’ve seen about contemporary culture and ultimately one of the most optimistic. How do you feel about milennials? Are you hopeful for our future?

I do feel hopeful, yeah. One of the things we thought about while filming was that when Megan was growing up we envisioned a Heathers-like raising. It was very clique centric for her and it was easy being popular. But looking at the kids growing up now, who are in high school in the movie like Chloe’s character, where do they fit in? The social structure is very different now, there’s not so much cliqueishness, it’s more fluid. Kids are real individuals now, they’re chameleon like. And that’s really delightful. So I have a lot of hope for the current, young people generation. And I think it’s fine if people take all of their 20’s to figure out their place in the world. What’s wrong with that?

Laggies opens in cinemas this Friday, October 24th

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