Lynn Shelton is a Sundance veteran. Her film Humpday debuted at the annual Park City festival in 2009; last year her story about an anxious massage therapist, Touchy Feely with Ellen Page, made a splash in a year with more female directors than ever at the fest. She returns to Sundance this week with a movie that has a similar sensibility as her previous efforts, but with one big difference: “I’ve never directed a film I didn’t write, and this came to me from an outside source,” Shelton tells EW. “It was an interesting process working with a script that originated in somebody else’s brain.” It’s also her biggest movie to date. “It’s the first multi-million dollar movie I’ve done so that was really fun to get to work on a grander scale for me. It was a big step up.”
Laggies follows Megan — played by Keira Knightley, seen in the exclusive photo above — a woman who’s stumbling a little bit directionless through life at 28 years old. In the same vein as The Graduate and other movies that show young adults in lost-at-sea mode, Shelton says her film pays homage to those types of stories, but her character is a little different. “It’s the kind of story you see men play all the time…the lost soul who’s a little bit ‘failure-to-launch.’ But she’s not like a slacker. She has an advanced degree. She’s marching to the beat of her own drummer, she has her own timeline, she hasn’t been inspired, she hasn’t felt the need to buckle down and be an adult yet.”
Shelton says Knightley, who stepped in for Anne Hathaway after scheduling conflicts forced Hathaway to leave the project, is the perfect fit for Megan. “This chick is so funny and so genuinely talented,” Shelton says of Knightley, who she first noticed as the teenage soccer misfit in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham. “She’s always naturalistic because of all the period pieces she’s done. She was a very easy fit, and once we found she’d be comfortable with the accent, it was a no-brainer. She brings Megan to life in a charming, believable way.”
The film opens at Megan’s high school prom, in 2003. Shelton worked with Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, who scored the film to create a sound that carries through the 10 years between high school graduation and young adulthood.
“Scoring is a really specific thing. You have to follow the arc emotionally,” Shelton says of Gibbard’s work on the film. “I realized later on that the characters in the film, the 28-year-old lead and her high school buddy, graduate in 2003 when Death Cab had their huge album. We have a flashback. The movie opens on prom night and the very first thing you hear is their song ‘Such Great Heights.’ The next scene is their 10-year reunion and you hear the song again. It’s subtle, but it was very intentional.”
Shelton saw similarities between her career and Gibbard’s, and the fact that they both live in Seattle and could jam together in the studio also helped round out the film. “There’s something about the tone, the mood — there’s this soulfulness but extreme accessibility that I really wanted from the film,” Shelton tells EW. “Death Cab started out as fiercely independent then crossed over into mainstream, and that was something else I felt I was doing with this film or wanted to accomplish with this film.”
While Shelton isn’t spending as much time in Park City as she has in years past, she’s looking forward to seeing other filmmakers’ work while she’s in town. Who are her picks to check out? “The [Joe] Swanberg film — Happy Christmas — and John Slattery’s film. I’m so excited for his debut as a feature filmmaker.”
Laggies also stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Sam Rockwell, and Ellie Kemper. It premieres Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, which runs now through Jan. 26 in Park City, Utah.