There are plenty of movies out there which, if someone asked you for your opinion, might get the old “You’ll either love it or hate it.” Donnie Darko, The Royal Tenenbaums, Magnolia, Love Actually: these are movies that, one way or the other, elicit strong feelings. Lucky Them, on the other hand? Lucky Them is not one of these movies. It’s not love/hate. At best it’s maybe like/dislike, but really it’s just… nothing. The kind of movie that makes you wonder how the hell it even got made.
Lucky Them is the semi-autobiographical story of Ellie Klug (which happens to be the pseudonym for rock journalist and co-author of the movie, Emily Wachtel). Ellie, played by Toni Collete, is a writer at a Seattle-based music magazine, and is in a major stage of arrested development following the disappearance and assumed suicide of her rock almost-legend boyfriend Matthew Smith. Ten years later, her life now consists fully of going to concerts in bars, drinking a lot, kinda sorta writing sometimes about things no one else cares about, drinking some more, and having a whole bunch of casual sex with guys in their twenties. Still, she’s not in so much of a spiral that we’re forced to root for her to pull herself together; she more just kind of comes off as lazy and maybe mildly depressed. Add to that the fact that when you realize Toni Collete (and so, one would assume, her character) is in her 40s, that means she was in her 30s and a full-grown adult when Matthew disappeared. That makes her development more regressed that arrested, thereby sucking most of the potential romantic nostalgia out of her issues. She’s not trying to recreate days gone by, she’s just being a f*ck-up. What does that leave us with? Some pretty low stakes, that’s what.
When Ellie’s boss (played by Oliver Platt, who I assume shot all of his scenes for this movie and Chef on the same day— just get all your generic domineering boss takes out of the way at once) realizes that his magazine is in trouble, he sends her out on a really big story. Never mind the fact that Ellie is in no way an investigative journalist or that there may be a conflict of interest or maybe it’s just not a healthy idea; Ellie is going to find out what happened to Matthew Smith. See, before he disappeared, Smith was on his way to becoming the next Cobain, and though his car was left at the top of a Fugitive-like waterfall, they never found a body. So Ellie sets off, using the power of internet message boards and the infinite weirdos that lie therein. She also recruits an old non-boyfriend Charlie (played by Thomas Haden Church) to fund the search. Charlie, an eccentric wealthy weirdo — the kind of guy who drops random quotes from The Great Gatsby into everyday conversations— has been taking documentary classes at the local community college, and in exchange for his money, he insists on filming the process. And thus begins the Zany Roadtrip portion of the movie. This is followed by the Growing As a Person portion, the Regression Interlude and the Coming to Terms finale.
This review, I’m aware, is way harsh. And Lucky Them is not a terrible movie. But it’s a frustrating one. Because there is real potential here. Hell, they got Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church to carry this movie. But at every turn, the writers and director Megan Griffiths take the easy way out. There is no subtext, no subtlety to this movie. Where there should be an explosive climax with major character development or at least revelations, they instead substituted a cheap bit of stunt casting. Lucky Them may not be bad, per se, but give me bad over boring any day. Because this just feels like a waste of everyone’s time.
Lucky Them is playing in select (very select, like one) theaters and is available on VOD and iTunes.
Vivian Kane hopes no one is keeping track of how many times she’s mentioned The Fugitive.