Say When (2014)

We’re back once again plumbing the depths of Netflix’s finest offerings. And once again, it’s an indie rom-com!

The Netflix summary of Say When (known as Laggies in the U.S.) is “Clinging to youthful irresponsibility, 28-year-old Megan agrees to attend a career-development retreat, only to spend the time with a teenage friend.” I can relate to a few of the points in this film and so thought it might be interesting.

It is a curious animal: it stars Keira Knightly and Sam Rockwell, two relatively big names for a film of this nature (it only took $1.8 million at the box office, so I am doubtful it had widespread distribution), and both of them are them are really good in this, but seems to steer clear of any real insight for an indie movie.

Keira Knightly is Megan, a woman who still dates her high school sweetheart and hangs round with her high school friends. Megan has a Master’s Degree in counselling because she thought she wanted “honest conversations” but then realised she simply couldn’t relate to the people she was supposed to be counselling. Since then, she has been bumming around, unemployed, avoiding having to make a decision with her life.

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You can tell she’s a slacker because she’s employed in a minimum wage job… 

While at a supermarket, she is approached by some teens who want her to buy them booze. Remarking that she did the same thing at their age, she buys them the drinks they want and she asks for a go on the skateboard they have, following which they ask her to hang out with them…

It’s only now, writing a review a few hours later, that I am questioning whether or not a bunch of 16 or 17 year olds would ask a 28-year-old woman who bought them beer to hang out. I’ll chalk it up to it working because there’s something slightly unreal about Keira Knightly’s Megan…

Anyway, Megan befriends one of the teens, Annika, who later asks her to pretend to be her mum at a Parent-Teacher meeting. No one seems overly sceptical of Megan, despite the fact she clearly isn’t old enough to be Annika’s biological mother, but then I suppose questioning who exactly Megan is would de-rail the movie…

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“Why yes, I really am her mother. Why do you ask?”

Following her doing this favour for Annika, Megan calls in said favour and asks to hang out at Annika’s house because “the lease on her new apartment doesn’t start for a week” (read: she doesn’t want to face her partner, friends and family). Again, Annika is quick to just let this random 28-year-old woman into her house and just chill out rather than question why she can’t stay with, say, an adult friend or even her parent(s)…

Look: let’s just face the fact that some slightly implausible things happen to push the story along. And yet, if I can watch a film where one of the most British men on the planet, Benedict Cumberbatch, plays an American wizard without breaking my suspension of disbelief, I can accept Keira Knightly doing some slightly implausible things.

A quick aside about Keira Knightly’s American accent: I thought it was pretty good! She can be extremely British but here her accent works. Unlike, say Hugh Laurie (House) or Sean Bean (Silent Hill). Ugh. Sean Bean’s American accent… just… no.

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“Why yes, I am a 28-year-old woman who is friends with your teenage daughter. Why do you ask?”

Annika’s dad, Craig, arrives at home and quickly deduces his daughter isn’t alone. Bursting into Annika’s room to catch her out, he finds her with an 28-year-old woman… His (natural) reaction is to interrogate her and find what the F is going on.

He ultimately relents and Megan mooches around the home of these two complete strangers because of course, that’s what you do when you want to escape any form of responsibility or adulthood. Megan grows close with Craig and his daughter, even going to visit Annika’s estranged mother with her.

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“I didn’t have enough of teenage non-drama when I was a teenager, so I am back for more.”

All this culminates with Megan realising that she has outgrown her boyfriend and her circle of friends and that she wants more than that. And that this is the reason for her general inability to face life.

Now I’ve typed that, I’ve kinda realised that the film doesn’t really know what it is about.

At the beginning of the film, Megan has some issues trying to relate to this group of girls she has known since high school. That they don’t understand why she just can’t be “normal”. Her boyfriend has kind of been gently trying to get her to do something with her life but otherwise seems happy for her to mooch around.

But then it changes gears as she spends all this time with Annika and her peers, who are going through all that teenage bullshit she had grown out of. This sort of gives her a wake up call but not really?

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Teenage wasteland. Its only teenage wasteland.

After a week of hanging out with Annika and her dad, she decides she loves him and after a night of drinking, they have sex which is enough for her to break off her relationship with her long-term boyfriend…

The film kinda wants to simultaneously portray Megan as a train wreck and a manic pixie dream girl, which is an interesting combination (and if you really think about it, being a slacker not wanting to face up to reality is a groove a manic pixie dream girl could fall into) but then she is never really enough of a trainwreck or a manic pixie dream girl to really have a message.

And the final realisation that her friends and boyfriend are this cloying group of people she no longer feels any connection with seems to just come out of nowhere. Megan makes friends with some teenagers and then has sex with an older man and this is enough for her to throw away her entire life? O… kay?

It is like the first 10 minutes and the last 10 minutes are one film and then everything that happens in between is some weird alternate reality.

I think the only really I enjoyed this film is because the three leads, Megan, Craig and Annika, are all really great and you want to watch them. You want it all to end nicely for them. Which is fine, I guess, but the film could have had a real message.

Its kind of in the same ballpark as Standing Still, a film about a group of high school friends who have all have to face up to the fact that they aren’t 18 anymore. That film had something to say whereas I’m not sure Say When does.

There’s probably an early draft of this script which was a harsh critique of the Megan character and that would have made for a better film, I think. Instead, this is a fairly empty film with some engaging performances by its leads and for that, I think was successful.

However, if you are looking for something more insightful, look elsewhere.

TLDR; “Keira Knightly befriends a teenager and then bones her dad while avoiding real life responsibilities. Then dumps all her friends.”

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