Has any movie made during the past 10 years not presented female journalists as sluts? In “Lucky Them,” Megan Griffiths’s sometimes amusing, often demoralizing comedy, rock critic Ellie Krug (Toni Collette) has already pounced on hunky young musician Lucas Stone (Ryan Eggold) barely 10 seconds into interviewing him for the Seattle music magazine Stax.
It could be worse — Ellie might have been portrayed by Carmen Diaz or Drew Barrymore instead of the nuanced and always appealing Collette. She’s joined by Thomas Haden Church, sly, socially inept, and weird as Ellie’s rich friend Charlie, in maintaining the film’s quirky charm. It almost compensates for the persistent tone of low female self-esteem (co-writer Emily Wachtel, who proudly identifies herself as an ex-groupie in a Huffington Post interview, says the movie is based in part on her personal experience).
(Full disclosure: Boston Globe managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry is among the credited producers of this film, along with Joanne Woodward, who also voices the role of Doris.)
Unsurprisingly, this compulsion to sleep with her subjects has complicated Ellie’s personal and professional life. Ten years earlier she had been the lover of Seattle grunge star Matthew Smith, an icon on a par with Kurt Cobain, who, like the tormented Nirvana lead man, dropped out of the limelight and apparently committed suicide. His car was found next to a towering waterfall, and though most think he jumped, rumors persist that he’s still alive.
Smith’s last act probably traumatized Ellie, but whether her promiscuity results from her grief or is just business as usual for a female rock critic doesn’t seem to matter. Instead, the film has fun with her sottish, compulsively debauched ways, and her pot-smoking editor Giles (Oliver Platt) gives her the kind of carte blanche for bad behavior and missed deadlines that Hunter Thompson would envy. However, the print journalism industry being what it is these days — and I must say I have never seen the office of a working publication as pristine and well-appointed as that of Stax — Giles finally has to rein Ellie in, and assigns her the task of solving Smith’s disappearance in order to write a sensational story about it, thus saving the magazine and her own career.
What follows is no “Citizen Kane,” or even “Velvet Goldmine” (1998), Todd Haynes’s arty tale of a reporter trying to track down a missing glam rock star, in which Collette also starred, playing the missing man’s alcoholic wife. Fortunately, Ellie and Charlie (who seems, in part, modeled on Steve Jobs, at least in his culinary tastes) team up to try to find Smith. Charlie, whose attraction to Ellie is rudely unrequited, insists on making a documentary of the search, filmmaking being the latest hobby of his fabulously endowed idleness. His droll, bizarre, and awkwardly honest exchanges with the crassly exploitative Ellie gradually win her over. The audience, too — lucky for them.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.