Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Laggies vs. The Guest, two Sundance-premiered films that star British leads with faux American accents as unexpected houseguests.
PremiseLaggies is a dramedy that centers around Megan, a woman stuck in permanent adolescence despite being in her late 20s. A “sign flipper” at her father’s company, she attends her 10-year high school reunion with her high school boyfriend and subsequently realizes her lack of accomplishments and significant changes in her life. When her boyfriend later proposes at a friend’s wedding (big no-no, man), she panics, and proceeds to fake a weeklong personal-improvement seminar for a temporary escape. After meeting Annika, a 16-year-old student who persuades Megan to buy her and her friends beer outside of a supermarket, Megan moves in with her for the week for some much needed soul-searching and reflection. She also finds a potential romantic interest in Annika’s world-weary father, Craig.
On a darker note, the psychological-thriller The Guest presents David, an ex-Marine who was recently discharged from a tour of Afghanistan, as he appears on the doorstep of the grieving Peterson family. He was a friend of their recently deceased Marine son Caleb, and comes to them to fulfill the promise he made to look after his friend’s family. Or so he claims. Although a seemingly “nice” houseguest (kind and respectful to the parents, defending the tween son against bullies, buying the teenage daughter alcohol) a series of accidental deaths in the neighborhood appear to connect back to an increasingly menacing-seeming David. With the purposely short (just below one minute) and ambiguous accompanying trailer, The Guest has piqued our interest more. And how many times has an existential coming-of-age dramedy been done, anyway, Laggies?Advantage: The Guest
CastThe leading lady of Laggies is the always-lovely Keira Knightley, supported by the amazingly talented-beyond-her-years Chloë Grace Moretz as Annika. Sam Rockwell portrays Annika’s father Craig (the core trio have natural, effortless chemistry), and the cutely innocent Ellie Kemper plays Annika’s friend Allison. Even Jeff Garlin gets in on the action as Annika’s carefree accountant father.
The star power is less significant for The Guest. Dan Stevens (aka Downton Abbey’s dashing Matthew Crawley) portrays the leading man, while relatively new film newcomers Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer play the children of the Peterson family. Besides Stevens, there is no real box-office clout, especially compared to the illustrious top-notch lineup of Laggies.Advantage: Laggies
Sundance ReceptionBoth films have received more praise than scorn since they premiered at the festival in January, although neither will make the rounds at top awards circuits. Laggies has been especially praised for its emotional range and portrayal of pseudo-adolescence, with Megan’s unconventional journey of self-discovery being relatable and pertinent in today’s Generation Y society (not the specific way in which she goes about it, though). The Guest has been praised for clever, unique set-ups and John Carpenter-esque settings, but many reviewers have noted that it falls victim to haphazardly and frequently switching genres (Is it horror? Or is it a thriller?) making for some very noticeable stylistic faux pas. Continuity trumps lacklusterness, always.Advantage: Laggies
Accent BelievabilityIf you close your eyes and listen to Knightley and Stevens, you would believe that both of them are American—their respective voice coaches should be given a round of applause. They disguise their native London (West London for Knightley; South London for Stevens) accents very well. But Laggies falls into the potential problem of having an international, A-list actress subjected to a new and unfamiliar accent, which could prove regrettably distracting to the informed viewer. The same setback occurred, flipping nationalities around, with Anne Hathaway in One Day and Reese Witherspoon in The Importance of Being Earnest, where good, solid performances were overshadowed by a changed dialect. Stevens is luckier in this regard, as non-anglophile Americans won’t have much knowledge of his British and Downton background.Advantage: The Guest
DirectorWhen it comes to their films, both directors are more on the indie circuit than the blockbuster circuit. Laggies director Lynn Shelton has noticeable range, spanning from mainstream television (New Girl, Mad Men) to other warmly received films that also played at Sundance (such as Your Sister’s Sister and Humpday). She specializes in lucid dramedies, and Laggies fits into her oeuvre nicely. The director of The Guest, Adam Wingard, has a penchant for low-budget horror and gore films (consult his previous films You’re Next, Pop Skull, and A Horrible Way To Die for a macabre sampling), making his newest psychological thriller out of his usual gruesome norm. Although his horror films are, in general, well received and premiere at well-established film festivals (he’s also credited to starting a new mini-genre called “acid horror”), Shelton’s broader scope of talent, and the ability to draw in more commercially viable actors, gives her the advantage.Advantage: Laggies
The VerdictThe witty, emotionally driven and star-studded take on 20-something ennui that Laggies depicts is both touching and relevant. If you really fancy a psychological thriller with splashes of intense bloodshed and violence, go all out and consult ’70s and ’80s grindhouse films of similar nature.Winner: Laggies
Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.