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Romantic comedies are not usually my favorite genre. I’ll watch anything, but I have a lower tolerance for the tired tropes that seem to be fixtures of crowd-pleasing rom-coms, so I end up snorting and rolling my eyes at movies my friends love. At first it seemed as if Lucky Them was going to fit neatly into that paint-by-numbers template: music critic Ellie (Toni Collette) is newly single and has just been assigned to write a story on her rock star ex-lover Matthew, who has become something of a legend since his disappearance ten years earlier. Meanwhile she also meets a handsome young street musician named Lucas (Ryan Eggold) who isn’t fazed by her attempts to rebuff him.
If that all sounds familiar to you, it did to me too, and I was just about to check the baseball score instead when Ellie runs into an old acquaintance named Charlie (Thomas Hayden Church), an affluent, bombastic weirdo who offers to subsidize her search for Matthew if she’ll let him make a documentary about it in exchange. I cannot overstate the comedic majesty that is Thomas Hayden Church’s performance here. It is glorious. I cackled, many times. Charlie is self-obsessed and clueless in a way that feels both ridiculous and totally believable.
From there, the film braids together several genres. It’s simultaneously a mystery, a romance, a road-trip comedy, and a workplace drama (Ellie’s boss, played by a beautifully sardonic Oliver Platt, threatens to fire her if she doesn’t deliver on the story). Charlie falls in love with a dippy former call girl (Ahna O’Reilly), and Lucas’s musical talent and boyish charm eventually win over Ellie. The new romance distracts Ellie from her quest, but Charlie enjoys his new hobby too much to let her give up the search for Matthew. He even tries his hand at investigating the disappearance himself, telling Ellie with complete sincerity, “I think I’m even better at investigative journalism than I am at documentary filmmaking.”
What makes Lucky Them such a successful romance is that it doesn’t settle for pairing our heroine with the guy she says is wrong for her but who’s obviously right by any sensible person’s standards. Women in romantic comedies are always pushing away guys the rest of us would happily throw ourselves at headfirst if we met them in real life. It has to work that way since we’re evidently in love with the idea of being won over, at least according to Hollywood. But the romance here happens while both key players are genuinely not looking, at least not at one another. Nor do we need any explanation for why Ellie doesn’t immediately fall into his arms; at first he’s the very definition of “amusingly terrible.” I also love that there’s no grand gesture or dramatic declaration of love; their one estrangement happens in the middle of the film and is solved the way real people’s estrangements are, by the injuring party apologizing to the injured one.
If nothing else, you absolutely must watch this film for the final act, when Ellie finds out what really happened to Matthew. I won’t spoil anything: the less you know about it, the better. Suffice it to say, it’s extremely satisfying and the perfect ending to a romance that’s complex but never cluttered, ridiculous yet wholly believable.
Ashley Wells watches too many movies and welcomes recommendations for more. Leave her one here or on Twitter: @ashleybwells. Spoiler alert: she has already seen Troll 2.