Say When Review
After making one of the defining mumblecore comedies with Humpday, Lynn Shelton’s directorial output has faced a steady downfall as she gradually moved away from her improvisational methods – still evident in Your Sister’s Sister – towards the scripted sitcom vibes that plagued Touchy Feely. Based on a screenplay by novelist Andrea Seigel, Say When marks the first time in feature films that Shelton is working from someone else’s writing, which might explain why the plot itself comes across as so unnaturally cartoonish. Could it be that the characters demand it? After all, the plot is like Freaky Friday if the supernatural elements are explained by poor decision making.28-year-old Megan (Keira Knightley) is depicted as someone who’s moved on from her adolescence at the speed of a tortoise. She still lives with the same boyfriend (Mark Webber), spinning advertising signs for her father’s (Jeff Garlin) business, and doesn’t take off her trainers before stretching on the sofa. It’s only when she attends a school reunion and receives a marriage proposal that her focus – and the film – goes off the rails. She runs off for fresh air and ends up buying booze for 16-year-old Annika (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her skateboarding pals, before becoming one of those very skateboarding pals. If credibility isn’t already stretched, Megan ends up staying the night at Annika’s house in an impromptu sleepover that’s okayed by the latter’s single father Craig (Sam Rockwell) because... well, it becomes clearer later.In a generational war, Megan wants to be on the winning side – and by that, I mean the side belonging teens who overuse “winning” in normal conversation. The adults in her life are humourless stiffs beyond parody (Ellie Kemp is one of them), with the exception of Craig, who delights in her quirky charms: she plays in the garden, gossips with children, and wears Annika’s pyjamas. One of the deeper psychological directions could be asking why a father is so turned on by a stranger wearing his daughter’s clothes, but Say When opts for more middling indie territory concerning how long someone can keep a lie. The answer, as always, is two acts.Without straying too far from a standard Sundance dramedy, Say When hits feel-good beats with too much confidence. Everything about the situation – how no one challenges Megan’s behaviour, even after several weeks of staying at Annika’s house – is fake. And so are the characters, each constructed to fit the screenplay: Megan is ironically trained to be a relationship counsellor. The film is similar to its protagonist: it desperately wishes to remain in an inert state on safe ground, far away from new challenges or invention. With such a weak script and lack of directorial individualism, Knightley’s enthusiasm can’t lift the character and the arc ends up like the tortoise: going nowhere fast.