When you’re down, it seems like everyone around you has all the luck. Some of your friends have great jobs, others have great income, and who could forget the ones with the perfect partner whose obnoxiously cute photos make it into your social media feeds without fail. If the dice haven’t rolled in your favor for some time, it’s enough to turn a person bitter.
In Lucky Them, Toni Collette plays Ellie Klug, an unlucky-in-life music critic looking at a lay-off and nothing more than meaningless hookups to spend her nights. Her editor (Oliver Platt, recently working in more media-related roles than most writers) suggests she’s been sitting on the story of a lifetime for years: what happened to the enigmatic musician who broke her heart when he disappeared over a decade ago in Searching for Sugarman style. She reluctantly takes the assignment and scores the financial (and comical) help of a distant acquaintance looking for a documentary subject, Charlie (Thomas Haden Church).
This kind of character-driven movie would whither in minutes if the leading talent couldn’t draw the viewers into their story. From her earlier roles in Muriel’s Wedding and the show United States of Tara, audiences have seen Toni Collette play her characters on the verge of a nervous breakdown and beyond. Her roles are an interesting bunch, and she’s careful to layer her body language and tics to express the kind of stress her character experiences. In Little Miss Sunshine, she stands tall as a calming bond between her quirky and unstable family. In Lucky Them, you can almost see the weight of the world on her shoulders, her lackluster love life, the job that doesn’t excite her anymore, and the mystery of her lover’s disappearance. It makes her shoulders hunched, her head tilted down to emphasize the tired circles under her eyes, and her smile barely appears without strain. Collette showcases this mask of exasperation with subtle brilliance.
Likewise, her deadpan companion, Charlie (Church) is the perfect comic relief to Ellie’s weary and cynical sourpuss. With a Buster Keaton-esque delivery, he naively and earnestly injects himself in this otherwise very personal drama. Charlie softens Ellie’s brusqueness in some social situations, while she attempts to lose him along the way. He’s the awkward outsider left stranded outside the club, but his forgiving nature (though he does demand an apology later) keeps him in Ellie’s world a lot longer than most of her other flings. Lucky for us, too, since Charlie is infinitely a much more interesting character than Ellie’s other male fling, aspiring musician Lucas Stone (Ryan Eggold).
Director Megan Griffiths allows Ellie to meander and wallow through tangential relationships and malaise, but never makes her a sainted victim in her story. Ellie screws up at several points, and in a very mature way accepts the consequences. This could be a part of her defeated nature, but it’s a refreshing change from the defensive attitude to blame it all on someone else. Griffiths works well with the surroundings, too, playing up the Northwest’s overcast days to mirror Ellie’s depression or to warmly light the clubs and venues that make her leading lady come alive. Her camera’s steady look centers her characters gracefully, and keeps them human enough to relate to, sympathize with, and root for.
Lucky Them feels lived-in in its sticky bars and unkempt living rooms stacked with records, comfortable enough to slip into with its incredible leads, and warm enough to help you remember that luck has a way of turning itself around. It’s both a familiar story and yet not one we see done well often. Griffiths has worked her way through a decade in the independent film world, and I hope she continues her climb up that ladder to bring more interesting characters and offbeat stories. I’d recommend this movie on Collette’s performance alone, but that would shortchange her equally excellent supporting cast. So take a chance and try your luck.
Director: Megan Griffiths
Writer: Huck Botko, Emily Wachtel, and Caroline Sherman
Starring: Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, Oliver Platt
Release Date: May 30, 2014