Megan Griffiths’ made-in-Seattle story of love and friendship, “Lucky Them,” has that rare gift: It leaves its audiences warm and happy, as the best romantic comedies do. Local filmmaker Griffiths’ previous effort, “Eden,” was a well-crafted, harrowing tale of sex trafficking. Here, she steps completely in the opposite direction with a low-key charmer that shows off her versatility as a storyteller. And it shows off Seattle, too; cinematographer Ben Kutchins creates, in the lollipop nighttime neon of Capitol Hill, a post-grunge wonderland.
Ellie (Toni Collette) doesn’t notice the colors as she strides along those sidewalks; her thoughts are elsewhere. She’s missing deadlines at work (she’s a music journalist, for a fictional Seattle publication that resembles the late Rocket), and things aren’t much better on the romantic front. Her long-suffering editor (Oliver Platt) offers her one last chance: Write a story about her long-ago ex, Matthew Smith, a local music legend who disappeared from public life. Having little choice, Ellie accepts the assignment and soon acquires a sidekick in the form of Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), a would-be documentarian who wants to film her quest.
Much of the movie, written by Emily Wachtel and Huck Botko, unfolds as a road trip for Ellie and Charlie (the mysterious Matthew is a hard man to find), and Collette and Church make delightful company behind the wheel of a rented RV. The two quickly find a breezy chemistry: Ellie sardonic and stressed-out, Charlie cheerfully lunkheaded (just the way he says “Rolling!,” from behind the camera, is hilariously clueless). They talk about music, or about nothing at all. Slowly, we watch them become friends.
Is every detail of “Lucky Them” plausible? Nope, but it creates such goodwill that you won’t mind a bit. You leave remembering a crucial scene, late in the film, as Collette manages to convey sadness, laughter and resignation all in one close-up; or a bittersweet conversation from which the film’s title springs. Ultimately, it’s an actors’ showcase, a gently funny reminder that love is a process of trial and error, and a step forward in the fascinating career of a local treasure.