The description provided by the Tribeca Film Festival for Lucky Them describes Megan Griffiths‘ fourth film as being a “personal comedy” in the “Almost Famous tradition of journalist’s seeking out rock royalty, and instead, finding themselves.” Considering that Almost Famous is one of the finest movies ever made about both rock and roll and rock journalism, my interest was piqued. However, I have been deceived. While I can blame Tribeca for making a poor comparison, the real blame squarely lands on the shoulders of Griffiths for making a film that is one bad rewrite away from being a Sarah Jessica Parker or Jennifer Aniston rom-com.
Yes, on the surface that’s harsh criticism, especially since there is at least one interesting element to Lucky Them — the hilarious performance of Thomas Haden Church. But as great as his character is, it’s hard to recommend watching this movie just for him.
Ellie Klug (Toni Collette) is a forty-something rock journalist at a struggling music magazine who serially seduces good-looking young musicians even though they probably all have a line of younger, more beautiful women willing to throw themselves at them. This is not a shot at Collette; we are told she’s “old” because there are a half-dozen cracks about her age and twice as many about how unprofessional she is, so the audience is expected to find her behavior inappropriate. The reason why Ellie does this routine is because ten years ago her long-term boyfriend, Matthew Smith, who was a famous and influential musician, completely dropped off the face of the earth and is thought to be dead (since Smith supposedly drowned and remains influential in supposed death, his life and influence seems to parallel Jeff Buckley’s). Ellie’s editor Giles (Oliver Platt) wants her to use that emotional connection to try and track Smith down so she could write an article that would save the magazine. Tagging along with her is another one of her former boyfriends, millionaire Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), who is a budding documentary filmmaker and wants to make a movie about her search. In the meantime, she strikes up yet another romance with young musician Lucas (Ryan Eggold). However, her search for Matthew turns up painful memories from her past and it soon becomes an obsession for her instead of an assignment.
Put aside the journalism angle and what this more is about is a woman still hung up on the guy who jilted her ten years ago. In other words, this is a sneak-attack rom-com — once you see the cliches kick in, it’s too late. In fact, that basic plot is uncouthly similar to the plot of Jason Reitman‘s 2011 film Young Adult. Like Young Adult, Lucky Them is about a borderline alcoholic single female writer who is profoundly unhappy attempting to fix her disastrous present by chasing after a guy who dumped her in the distant past. However, Young Adult features a protagonist who is a cruel, heartless creature in a plot that clearly satirizes saccharine rom-coms, exposing how improbable and sickeningly obsessive the narratives and protagonists of those movies can be.
That’s not the case with Lucky Them. It is still awash with rom-com cliches. Take Lucas, for example. Upon his first meeting with Ellie for an interview she drunkenly kisses him. Despite being a good-looking musician, he promptly reacts like a lovesick teenager who had his first kiss and proceeds to essentially stalk her until he wears her defenses down (a common rom-com trope: annoy a girl long enough and she’ll eventually give into you). Sure, these kind of movies never make it seem like stalking because it is apparently “cute” that he stands outside her work until she leaves and then follows her with his guitar singing a song about how she should make out with him. And Ellie eventually falls for it! This is the sort of behavior we roll our eyes at in Jennifer Aniston movies, but here we’re supposed to take it seriously?
On top of all this, despite all the praise from her editor it’s obvious that Ellie is a terrible journalist. Considering her age and the fact that she first met Matthew while they were teenagers, she knew her intimately for almost twenty years. However, she seems to know hardly anything about him as a person or why he would pull a disappearing act. Her investigative methods are less thorough than those of Bigfoot investigators, and it looks especially bad since I’ve seen the documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The real-life amateur South African sleuths did a better job tracking down Rodriguez and he was 8000 miles away and they knew nothing about him. It’s hard to maintain interest in a character’s journey when you don’t even buy into the character.
Thank goodness Lucky Them features Thomas Haden Church, who is absolutely hilarious as the music-hating, OCD stiff Charlie who delivers every line in this deadpan voice that makes each utterance solid gold. I would much rather have seen a movie about his character, especially since he’s clearly still carrying a torch for Ellie even though she’s seeing her new boyfriend while he’s also helping her track down yet another. There’s not enough good words I can say about his performance and how disappointed I am that it’s wasted in this movie.
I feel like Griffiths took a very unwise stab at mainstream filmmaking while trying to maintain her indie credibility. One of the co-writers, Huck Botko, is responsible for mediocre mainstream films like The Last Exorcism and The Virginity Hit and the other co-writer, Emily Wachtel, has never written a film before. Collette is a wonderfully talented actress, and she deserved a much better film.
Rating: It’s not even worth seeing this rom-com for Thomas Haden Church’s hilarious performance (3/10).