Say When (2014) – Review

Known as Laggies in the US (to avoid any IMDb confusion, “Say When” won’t even show up in a search), Lynn Shelton’s rescinding-of-age dramedy faces the only slightly daunting task of coming up against Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – you know, the guy who raked in over a billion dollars worldwide with his last movie. While any film would probably flinch at such a prospect, Say When might just benefit from being the unknown underdog. With its light, sprightly tone, good cast and bladder-friendly running time, it could be just the thing some folks are after. Anyway, when are expectations such a great thing?

Say When finds us in the company of Megan (Knightley), a 30-something layabout who, amidst panicking over an ill-timed proposal from her long-term beau, finds comfort in befriending 16 year old Annika (Moretz) and her chums, who all fail to pressure or judge her at every turn. Andrea Seigel’s script plays heavily on the assumption that there’s a sense of comfort for most of us in such an idea, with that longing to reclaim some of the lost innocence of adolescence, and it works particularly well thanks to really well drawn characters. We believe in their woes and struggles and respond to them in kind, whether it’s Monika stressing at the burdens of adult life, Annika worrying about prom and boys, or her dad (played by the ever-brilliant Sam Rockwell) struggling over the messy breakup with his superficial wife.

And for a film about a character who actively avoids taking risks, it’s a surprisingly fun spirited ride. The comedy, while not laugh out loud, is generally pitched at the right level, and as we begin to uncover the heart of the story; that it’s about three lonely, broken-shelled people finding exactly what they need in one another without quite realising, it’s actually rather sweet. The way Annika and her dad pull Megan in different directions to fill their personal voids is a touching little idea well handled by Shelton, who never allows it to be over-zealously thrown at the audience to squeeze sympathy.

The performances are good; Sam Rockwell is absolutely brilliant, again, and should probably be in every film ever made. Although with a limited screen time he’s never really allowed to flourish enough here. In fact, we occasionally long for the Sam Rockwell of The Way, Way Back after the eloquence with which he portrayed the similar morals of that film (teaching kids about embracing life and how not to follow in the mistakes that went before them) is substituted in Say When for a slightly generic, forcing it down the audiences’ throats kind of way. But if a little crumble towards the end doesn’t do too much damage, Say When is an adequately charming way to spend an afternoon.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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