They say that today’s 25-year-olds are in a “quarter-life crisis.” They’re the new “slackers,” the ones who got an education (maybe), but haven’t established their economic independence yet. Maybe they still live at home with their parents. Maybe they live with someone else, but are either unemployed or underemployed. They’re kind of drifting. Still haven’t really made any firm commitments about their lives. And don’t seem to be in a hurry to do so, although people around them might be starting to get impatient with their apparent lack of “taking charge of their lives.”
Megan (Keira Knightley) is like that. She studied psychology, got an advanced degree in family therapy, but sometime during her internship realized that she didn’t really like her clients. They seemed like self-involved whiners to her, and she suddenly discovered something about herself: she doesn’t have a lot of patience with other peoples’ self-absorption. That’s why she’s finding herself growing apart from her old group of friends, the ones whom she went to prom with and remembers their antics with fondness.
But that was then, and this is now. Now, Megan just works for her dad’s accounting company, carrying a sign out on the street encouraging people to come in and get their taxes done. Her mom is pressuring her to keep an appointment with the career counselor so she can “figure out what she wants to do.” Her fiancée, Anthony (Mark Webber), has joined forces with her mom to pressure her as well.
But Megan isn’t ready for that, either. In fact, her fiancée is someone she’s comfortable being with, but not someone she really wants to make a commitment to – not for forever, anyway. For now is just fine, though. Just don’t push it. Megan also finds herself still making dirty jokes with her old friends while they’re being serious about setting up house and having babies and other “settling down” dynamics. Megan finds herself just wanting to run away for a while. And then she gets a golden opportunity to do just that. Outside the grocery store, she is approached by a teenager, Annika (Chloe Grace Moritz), who is hanging out with her skateboarding friends. Annika asks Megan to buy some alcohol for her. Many responsible adults would dismiss this notion out of hand. But for some reason, Megan sees herself in Annika. Somebody did this for her one time, so she acquiesces. And in the process, makes a friend of someone much younger than she is, but with whom she finds a lot of identification.
Maybe Megan just wants to return to her high school years, when all she had to worry about was picking out a prom dress. But she finds herself lying to her family and fiancée about going to that career development seminar; instead she hangs out with Annika at her house, where she lives with her divorced dad, Craig (Sam Rockwell). Of course Craig soon discovers the subterfuge and asks Megan what in the world she’s doing at his house with his daughter, which is a fair question. The problem is that Megan doesn’t really have a good explanation, even to herself.
We like Megan precisely because she doesn’t have her act together. She’s got a good heart, but tends to be impulsive, sometimes even a little reckless. She’s content not to have a grand plan for her life, and at the same time she realizes that just floating along indefinitely won’t put her in a happy place, either. Yes, sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Sometimes we do things – or don’t do things – that we know will not accomplish what we want to do with our lives. But we’re human, and we mess up. And then we have to try to correct our mistakes.
Keira Knightley is good for this role because she’s able to pull off a myriad of different moods and somehow they all feel genuine. Not only does the camera love her, but the characters around her can’t help but be arrested by her presence. Still, she has to somehow figure out what she wants. And people around her are sometimes just as unpredictable as she is. No, it’s not really a classic “romantic comedy” because it doesn’t have much of either. But there’s the unmistakable feel of real in this character, and we find ourselves liking her even when she behaves badly and does the very thing that doesn’t get her where she wants to go. Yeah, we’ve all been there and done that, too.
Ronald P. Salfen is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.