When describing ‘Say When’ (originally titled ‘Laggies’), it seems instantly recognisable. Confused and carefree, or is it careless, 20-something, stuck in a rut with the same old friends and the same old life, and everyone is moving on while they’re trailing behind. The kinda neurotic, kinda commitment-phobic heroine feels like it’s been rehashed a million times. The formula of a woman facing her quarter life crisis deciding to take a break from her life for a week, to live and hang out with a bunch of high schoolers sounds tired from the get-go. Somehow it isn’t. Somehow, it works.
Maybe it’s because Keira Knightley in the role of Megan, a 28 year old with an advanced degree who works as a sign spinner for her Dad, doesn’t seem like the typical choice. She’s closely associated with proper English accents, corsets and period pieces. Seeing her skateboard, order mochachocochino’s and tweak the nipples of a buddha is a rare treat, because as a comedic actress she shines far brighter than you would perhaps expect. Sam Rockwell helps to set ‘Say When’ apart too, as the Dad of 16 year old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) he is incredibly likeable – sarcastic and raw, he commanded many of the audience’s biggest laughs. These laughs were more frequent than I thought they might be. Knightley and Rockwell have instant chemistry, they playfully bounce off of one another and pull off drunk acting with effortless grace.
Where ‘Say When’ trips is the complete implausibility of the plot. I am all for the suspension of disbelief but at times this was stretched to the point of severance, and prompted the girl next to me to say ‘WHAT?’ several times (though this same girl is the number one suspect in ‘who stole my phone from my coat pocket during the film’, so her judgement cannot be completely trusted). The basic story – 28 year old meets 16 year old and lives with her for a week – is ridiculous itself, but seeing as it is the whole premise, I accepted it. Yet it keeps pushing those boundaries; Megan pretending to be Annika’s mum, Megan taking Annika to see her real estranged mother who gives her free lingerie, Annika and friends positively begging Megan to attend their prom (ON A BOAT), Annika being in love with the typical high school dream boat accept he’s literally not a dreamboat AT ALL – like I honestly want to know who cast this kid because no teenage girl I know would get so het up about a boy with that bad a haircut and no discernable jaw.
These are just minor intricacies though, really. I don’t care about how highly unrealistic this film is – I care about how, in other ways it is so completely real. The portrayal of teenage girls, for example is so authentic – Annika and her friend Misty (Kaitlyn Dever, the stand out gem of the cast, amazing) speak like I speak and act like I act. They are as immature as they are wholly sincere, which is a trait I think people forget teenage girls can have. My speech pattern may be littered with ‘oh my god’, ‘like’ and ‘totally’, but it is filled with the conviction of any man’s. ‘Say When’, written and directed by two women (Andrea Seigel and Lynn Shelton respectively), is special because it believes this two. It is driven by almost coincidental female energy, as if to say that it’s not remarkable that women can be funny or hopeless or bawdy or lost, because sometimes they just are and it’s no big deal, get over it.
It’s smarter than people will give it credit for too, lots of metaphors and symbols and interesting use of colour littered throughout. Visually it’s fun and just different enough to make an impression. The dialogue is witty, the acting is surprising, the whole thing is fun and a pleasure to watch. ‘Say When’ may lack a little direction, but hey, isn’t that the point?