Lurking somewhere inside Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths’ latest film, Lucky Them, is a hard-edged character study about a 40-something female rock journalist confronting a series of inescapable realities: her own irrelevance in a dying medium; her lifestyle of promiscuous hook-ups with men half her age; her hazy obsession with a long-gone lover; and the fact that her aging rock-n-roll hipster identity is well past its sell-by date. Toni Collette, mustering all of her considerable skills, gamely searches for that character throughout this film. But she is frustrated at every turn. First by the excruciating simple-mindedness of the script (based on co-writer Emily Watchel’s semi-autobiographical experiences), and second by Griffiths’ decision to block and shoot this movie like a TV dramedy.
As the follow-up to the director’s breakout film, Eden, a well-executed, downbeat and gripping study of human trafficking which wore its minor flaws only on the periphery, Lucky Them is a disappointing backward step. Griffiths seems to struggle as much as her cast with the script’s threadbare intentions, pat characters and contrived encounters. Too many scenes begin and end with clumsy entrances and exits. The characters wind up lost among a thicket of intercutting head shots. The dialogue is irritatingly indirect, and delivered with false gusto. The setting consists almost entirely of the constellation of bars and clubs on Seattle’s Capitol Hill — with a few side trips to North Bend and Snoqualmie Falls for the requisite splashes of moss-laden Northwest texture — but these locations are overemphasized, leaving you with the sense of a city insufferably impressed with itself.
Stuffed inside this twee exercise in self-congratulation is a rock magazine editor (played by an under-used Oliver Platt) who has somehow gotten it into his head that the future of his yet-to-go-all-digital rag depends on Collete hunting down her ex-boyfriend, a rock icon who may have faked his own suicide a decade ago. She is joined on her quest by a purely fanciful screenwriter creation, a vain millionaire-turned-amateur documentary filmmaker whom she briefly dated. Griffiths had the good sense to cast Thomas Haden Church in this role, and one gets the feeling his funniest lines were improvised on the spot, since they bear little resemblance to the dead weight his fellow actors have to shoulder.
Most perplexing is the way the movie’s central journey, and Collete’s wavering interest in finding her long-lost boyfriend, are constantly diverted by pointless intrusions, backtracks and a dubious insistence on showing off the local color of Seattle’s hipster scene (which, as we all know, comes only in shades of white). We are given little reason to invest ourselves in Collete’s journey, not only because there is minimal backstory supplied about her relationship with the mythic rocker, but also because she simply doesn’t seem that stuck on him. Her nightly routine — drinking too much, staying out past her age-appropriate bedtime, banging young men against picturesque brick walls — is meant to illustrate an inability to get on with her life, but she remains emotionally inaccessible for much of the film, as if Griffiths and her screenwriters are afraid of spoiling the breezy, seriocomic mood.
Without Church’s blasts of fresh air and Collete’s laudable efforts to overcome the subpar material, Lucky Them would be difficult to endure, since it’s also saddled with forgettable folky pop and a bevy of insidery cameos by other regulars of Seattle’s filmmaking community, which consists of a tight-knit group of actors, crew and writers who show up to help out on each other's films.
Community is a great thing if you’re starting a block watch or digging a well or lending moral support and talents to the making of a film. But it can lead to a kind of stifling groupthink when it comes to taking creative risks. Ideas are monitored so they don't offend anyone. Point-of-view is served up to a de facto focus group. Character types, situations and even physical locations end up being recycled. The result is a wan, grindingly conventional offering like Lucky Them.
This post originally appear on Rustin Thompson's "The Restless Critic" Blog.