SIFF Film Review – Lucky Them
The only thing I hate more than a movie that takes place in Seattle is a movie centered on the Seattle music scene. (That is hyperbole actually. Turns out I hate quite a lot of things more than that. One could honestly say that I am kind of a hater.) I get distracted by movies that take place in the town that I live in and love. Nobody ever gets the tone of the city right, and it turns out we are not all music-loving hipster coffee drinkers. When I found out the new Megan Griffiths‘ film, Lucky Them, which I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival, involves Toni Collette playing a Seattle music writer, I was not terribly excited. I’m an old punk rocker who has attitude about middle-aged people still clinging desperately to the local music scene. I’m trying to age gracefully here. And then I realized that I had spent 10 minutes the other day trying to convince a total stranger that John Carpenter’s The Thing was one of the best movies ever made. I guess people can love music as much as I love movies without seeming desperate to hold on to their youth. Anyway, it’s a good thing I got my head out of my ass because this is a very fun movie.
Ellie Klug (Toni Collette) is a music critic for Stax Magazine, headed by pot-smoking-at-work Giles (Oliver Platt). Readership is down, and Ellie’s articles have been focusing more and more on obscure bands. Giles would like her to step up her game, and sends her out looking for her ex-boyfriend Matthew Smith, a famous musician who either disappeared or died a decade ago. Ellie’s connection with Matthew is still the defining relationship of her life, and she seems to have stopped growing as a person when he left. Even though she is in her early 40s, her life is still about hanging out in bars, catching the latest band, and having sex with who ever she pleases. (There is nothing wrong with that if you still have the stamina. At 46, I do not.) She’s not a train wreck, but she’s not going anywhere good either. She’s forced into looking for Matthew and ends up receiving assistance from Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), a retired rich guy she once went on two dates with. He’s taken up documentary filmmaking, and has chosen Ellie for his first subject. He’s a nutbag, but she doesn’t really have the resources to find Matthew without him.
I had a really good time with Lucky Them. There is some unevenness in tone, and there is a romantic subplot I wish had less emphasis, but overall it holds up really well. The search for Matthew is really a MacGuffin. (See what I did there?) The film is actually about Ellie’s need to let the past go and get her shit together. There is something about being in your 40s that’s kind of dangerous. Choices that we didn’t make and people we let slip away come back to haunt us obsessively. It’s so easy to get stuck on the complications of the past, even though what we have now might be infinitely better. Yes, there’s a midlife crisis in my recent past. And Ellie is having hers too. She can’t move forward because she is mired in the past. I liked Ellie quite a bit and empathized with her need to reach some sort of adulthood-like state.
The acting here is really good. Toni Collete makes a potentially unlikable person very relatable. I never cared if Ellie found Matthew, but I did care if she was ever going to stop her obsessing and get that article written. Thomas Haden Church is very, very funny in this movie. So funny that it is almost a problem and causes some of the uneven tone. He’s almost from another movie, and that was a little distracting. This movie is humorous, but I’m not sure it would have been considered a comedy without him. But, in the end it works. Oliver Platt is Oliver Platt, which I think is a good thing. I would also like to call out Nina Arianda who plays Ellie’s friend Dana. She’s awesome and warm and funny – everything a best friend should be. And since so much of the film is concerned with Ellie’s male relationships, it’s important (and realistic) to have a good lady friend to balance that out.
As far as an accurate portrayal of Seattle goes, it’s okay. Ellie names her seahorses Kurt and Courtney, and I really could have done without that. Seattle is more than a music scene, but what are you gonna do? I’m really just nitpicking though. This is a really lovely comedy, and I’m glad I let myself open up to it. This is the first film I have seen by Megan Griffiths, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last.