Critics complaining about formulaic popular films actually have some ammunition these days, thanks to the popularity of the late Blake Snyder’s screenplay template, outlined in his best-seller Save the Cat.
Director Megan Griffiths’s smart, nimble Lucky Them both validates Snyder in its adherence to his template, and breaks with him by jettisoning his most commercial advice and making the protagonist an older woman instead of a young dude. Ellie Klug (ass-kicking Toni Collette) is an eye-rolling, whiskey-swilling rock journalist who once dated musician Matthew Smith, a kind of Kurt Cobain figure revered by aging, tubby Gen-Xers.
He supposedly committed suicide at a waterfall and is now the subject of urban legends and Elvis-like sightings in the Pacific Northwest. On the 10th anniversary of the release of his greatest album, Ellie’s editor (Oliver Platt) orders her to find Smith once and for all, a quest she undertakes with Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), a dilettante 1 percenter who fancies himself a filmmaker and wants to make a documentary about her. (Snyder would categorize it as a “Golden Fleece” plot.)
Church is perennially underrated and underused, and Lucky Them exploits his gift for comic character work. His Charlie is square as a graham cracker, mustached and Lands’ End–clad, and given to windbag proclamations about life, from which he’s insulated by money. Hilariously unaware of himself, he turns out to be unexpectedly sweet and humane.
Collette layers a protective shell of irony over Ellie’s loneliness and latent heartache, sometimes evincing all of it simultaneously, emotional multitasking that cannot be as easy as she makes it look.
Strangely Bechdel Test-failing and as far removed from real life as Middle Earth, Lucky Them nonetheless hits familiar beats in welcome and unexpected ways, and does it by the book.