It’s indicative of a deeper malaise that Megan Griffiths’s Lucky Them, a film about a jaded Seattle music critic searching for her long-lost pseudo-Cobain rock-star paramour, has very little decent music in it. Instead of the respectable lineup of grunge staples one might reasonably expect as accompaniment to such material, the film is wall to wall with the sort of twee indie rock that overlays the average episode of Parenthood. It’s fitting, then, that the movie itself is the equivalent of Starbucks-ready noodling posing as Nirvana.
Toni Collette plays Ellie Klug, the aforementioned music critic, known for helping launch the career of local icon Matthew Smith, who was also her longtime boyfriend. Smith’s subsequent suicide left her in a decade-long funk, phoning in her assignments and spending her nights on meaningless hookups or mopily playing music from her vinyl collection. Cut to the present and her beleaguered editor, Giles (Oliver Platt), feeling the pressure of plummeting print sales, forcibly assigns her a 10-year anniversary feature on Smith, inspired by online rumors that the musician isn’t dead after all.
Characters and subplots are introduced upon the flimsiest of pretexts, making the film feel choppy and arrhythmic. Thomas Haden Church is dropped into the proceedings in surreally random fashion as Charlie, a bored millionaire and documentary film student who decides to accompany Ellie on her hunt for Smith. The momentum of the central investigative arc is sabotaged throughout as Ellie and Charles repeatedly abort their research trips to fall headlong into superfluous romances—Ellie with a milquetoast busker (Ryan Eggold) whose music alone should suffice to alienate any self-respecting rock critic, and Charlie with an insufferable faux activist in what might be the film’s most inexplicable digression.
And so it goes, failing to gather steam in any of its multiple capacities: road-trip movie, by-the-numbers rom-com, disseminator of Hallmark-style platitudes. Even the Seattle setting and cultural milieu feel superficially sketched in, despite the script’s rooting in co-writer Emily Wachtel’s real-life experiences. To this end, we get some enthusiastic production design in Ellie’s apartment and place of employment along with a handful of suitably soft-focus Pacific Northwest locations. There’s little sense of Seattle as a city or as a sociocultural petri dish for musical innovation. All the uniformly white-bread crowds seem to go to the same two clubs to listen to the same homogeneous lo-fi pap.
The thinness of the material is only accentuated by the cast’s spirited efforts to pad it out. Church, in particular, shows admirable commitment, but even his usual off-kilter line readings and dollops of winking self-reflexiveness earn sporadic laughs at best. He’s made an excellent second foil in previous projects, but by the time his character is accidentally killing animals and sticking flashlights in his mouth, it just comes off as slightly desperate. It’s shtick standing in for character; every personality in this film is a vessel for strained gags or regurgitated self-discovery arcs. Mistaking contrived eccentricity for being genuinely interesting and trite sentimentality for emotional revelation, Lucky Them labors under the illusion that an abundance of Sub Pop memorabilia is adequate substitute for the honest evocation of a creative subculture and the personalities of which it’s composed.