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‘Lucky’ shows off ‘real Seattle’

Toni Collette plays a rock journalist in set-in-Seattle “Lucky Them.”
Toni Collette plays a rock journalist in set-in-Seattle “Lucky Them.”

Director Griffiths gives city’s music scene a leading role in new film

Whenever you’re watching a movie that’s set in Seattle, you might notice a handful of landmarks that filmmakers use as a sort of visual shorthand to illustrate where the characters are. Pike Place Market, perhaps, or Pier 54. Seattle Center, maybe; the Space Needle, almost certainly.

Megan Griffiths’ film “Lucky Them,” which starts playing today at the Magic Lantern Theatre, is very much a Seattle story, but you’re not going to see stock footage of the Space Needle or Mount Rainier. Like Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-centric Gen X comedy “Singles,” Griffiths’ film takes place in rock venues and dive bars – the Comet Tavern and the Crocodile, for instance – places where countless Pacific Northwest bands got their start.

What’s most surprising about the film, then, is that the screenplay, credited to Huck Botko and Emily Wachtel, was originally set in New York City.

“When I read it, even though at that point it was set in New York, (the characters) felt like people who existed in Seattle already,” Griffiths said during a recent phone interview. “They felt appropriate for that world. Emily and I started talking about shifting it to the Northwest, and how much of a Seattle story it really felt like it was.”

The film stars Toni Collette as Ellie, a Seattle rock journalist and music critic in her early 40s whose lifestyle revolves around late night concerts, cheap booze and empty sex. Working for a fictional rock magazine called Stax, Ellie is assigned to write a retrospective about Matthew Smith, a revered, influential singer-songwriter (also fictional) who disappeared at the height of his fame a decade ago.

The popular assumption is that he committed suicide by jumping off Snoqualmie Falls, as his abandoned car was found nearby. The Internet message boards, however, are abuzz with stories of Matthew Smith sightings, and Ellie even receives a fuzzy iPhone video of a man who might be Smith performing at a local bar.

Ellie becomes deeply involved in her search for Smith’s whereabouts, not only because of her looming deadline but because she was once romantically involved with him. Traveling through the Snoqualmie Valley in a rented motor home, Ellie is accompanied by another ex-boyfriend (Thomas Haden Church), who decides to videotape her journey for a documentary film class he’s taking.

It’s a compelling story, and it’s elevated by the chemistry between Oscar nominees Collette and Church. But it also functions as a small snapshot of Seattle’s indie rock scene, and the soundtrack is filled with tracks from a number of Seattle artists, including Father John Misty, the Head and the Heart, Pickwick and Damien Jurado, whose music plays the role of Matthew Smith’s.

“Over the years, I’ve grown to love so many Northwest artists, so they’re people I would have wanted to include anyway,” Griffiths said. “But we felt that was Ellie’s beat, and she would be aware of those bands. She might listen to them at home, she might go cover the Head and the Heart playing the Crocodile. It felt appropriate.”

Griffiths, a native of Moscow, Idaho, has lived in Seattle for the past 14 years, and her affection for the city comes through in “Lucky Them,” which is as much about Seattle as it is about Ellie’s personal journey.

“I was so excited to showcase the city that I live in,” Griffiths said. “It’s these neighborhoods that I go to, that I see shows in. That’s sort of my real Seattle.”