Megan Griffiths’ most commercial film to date, the acclaimed director departs from the weightiness of her previous work (“Eden,” “The Off Hours”) with “Lucky Them”. Part indie darling, part wacky road trip movie, it’s not nearly as authentic as her earlier films. But it’s at least engaging enough to keep you watching, if only to learn the resolution of the story’s core mystery.
Toni Collette effortlessly slips into the role of Ellie Klug, a mid-forties rock journalist who is experiencing a rut in all aspects of her life. Ellie is short on necessary cash for her potentially career-saving investigation into a 10-year-old cold case: the disappearance of Matthew Smith, an iconic Seattle musician and Kurt Cobain/Elliott Smith hybrid. The story carries extra weight for Ellie because she was in a serious relationship with Smith at the time of his disappearance and she has been unable to fully process the loss.
The film’s other prominent character is Charlie (Thomas Hayden Church), a former boyfriend and eccentric wealthy layabout who attaches himself to Ellie after a chance reunion. Charlie agrees to fund her mission provided she allows him to turn it into a documentary.
Meanwhile, Ellie feebly resists a relationship with a cute, younger street musician on the brink of stardom (Ryan Eggold). It’s his singer-songwriter aesthetic that also makes up the film’s largely ignorable soundtrack.
The story is reportedly semi-autobiographical for co-writer Emily Wachtel. Though, with several implausible plot points, perhaps it’s not autobiographical enough. For starters, do people like Ellie really still exist? She writes for what must be the last independent print music rag in the country. Her editor (Oliver Platt) is so convinced of the story’s revitalizing properties that he threatens to fire her if she refuses to take the assignment. The failing magazine is responsible for Ellie’s sole income, yet she somehow makes enough money to live alone in an apartment in the middle of one of the most expensive cities in the country and seems to enjoy a vibrant night life.
Though Collette and Hayden Church manage to imbue their characters with their natural charisma, on paper, they are tropes. Ellie is the self-destructive control freak that is afraid to open up. Charlie, with his freewheeling attitude and emotional candor, acts as Ellie’s foil. Initially, he is the wisecracking sidekick who eventually reveals a deep soul, thereby teaching Ellie to feel ways about things. It’s a relatively entertaining story, but the character development errs on the side of heavy-handed.
If you can get past these shortcomings, you will likely enjoy the rest of the film. Griffiths is a talented director with a distinctive knack for finding locations with character. She does a terrific job of capturing the true Seattle scenester vibe, avoiding shots of the Space Needle and fish throwing.
The bottom line is that based on her resume, I expected more from Griffiths. I hope that in the future she sticks with the more vérité tone of “The Off Hours” and steers clear of this Cameron Crowe, Hallmark hipster territory.