Lucky us: Toni Collette and the critical condition

  • Article by: ROB NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 23, 2014 - 2:46 PM

Toni Collette plays one of the least respected roles in the movies: rock critic.

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Thomas Haden Church and Toni Collette in “Lucky Them.”

Not counting ex-journalist Cameron Crowe’s semiautobiographical “Almost Famous,” the few movies made about music critics tend to portray them as flaky and brazenly unprofessional, devoid of intellect and ethics alike.

Typifying the trend, Jeff Goldblum’s pinheaded rock columnist in 1977’s “Between the Lines” concludes his inanely rambling “lecture” to Radcliffe students by giving them his home phone number.

In the new “Lucky Them,” Toni Collette stars as a Seattle music scribe who’d sooner sleep with her subjects than deconstruct their tunes. The film (available for rent on iTunes and Amazon starting Friday) represents a slight departure from tradition, if only for the warmth and vitality this oft-compelling actor brings to her latest role.

As whiskey-swilling, frontman-shagging Ellie Klug, senior writer at the highly fictional Stax magazine, Collette makes us believe this glorified groupie might actually deserve to keep her job.

Dedicated to the late Paul Newman, of all people, “Lucky Them” opens with Ellie getting the boot from her latest musician squeeze and an assignment from her pothead editor (Oliver Platt) to pen a where-is-he-now? feature on legendary Seattle rocker Matthew Smith — the journalist’s former discovery and, of course, her former boyfriend as well. Problem is, Smith has been missing for a decade, presumed dead by Kurt Cobain-esque suicide.

Accompanying Ellie on her search is yet another of her ex-lovers, the middle-aged Charlie (Thomas Haden Church), a wealthy doofus now taking community college classes in documentary filmmaking — perhaps the only creative profession more disparaged in American movies than music criticism. “Lucky Them” leads to a marvelous surprise cameo by an A-list actor who likewise disappeared about 10 years ago, at least from his muse.

Directed by indie up-and-comer Megan Griffiths, “Lucky Them” sports cringe-inducing dialogue and clichés as mildewed as a ’90s grunge rocker’s sneakers. Yet, through it all, the soulful Collette seems to be following the sage advice of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”: “You have to make your reputation on being honest — and unmerciful.”

Also notable on VOD

Named for the extraordinary year in which Victor Fleming directed “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” Take-Up Productions’ “1939” series at the Heights Theater starts Thursday with a screening of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and continues for four Thursdays thereafter.

Although video on demand is no substitute for this series — four-fifths of which is being presented in 35mm — it can help to round out one’s appreciation of a year many critics consider to have been the best of Hollywood’s golden age. Not at the Heights but streamable are 1939’s “The Roaring Twenties” (iTunes, Google Play, Vudu), Raoul Walsh’s zippy gangster movie with James Cagney and Humphey Bogart, and Howard Hawks’ sublime “Only Angels Have Wings” (Amazon, iTunes, Vudu), with Cary Grant and one of the most endearing supporting casts ever assembled.

Of John Ford’s 1939 western “Stagecoach” (Hulu Plus with subscription), former Boston Globe film critic Jay Carr, who died recently after a short illness, wrote that it gave its star John Wayne a “chance to exhibit kindness, at which he was ever convincing.” The movies gave such a chance to Carr, one of the warmest critics his colleagues — and his readers — have known.

  • TOP 10 MOVIES ON DEMAND

    1 “Ride Along”

    2 “The Legend of Hercules”

    3 “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

    4 “Frozen”

    5 “Labor Day”

    6 “The Wolf of Wall Street”

    7 “The Nut Job”

    8 “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

    9 “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”

    10 “August: Osage County”

    Source: Rentrak Corp. (May 5-11)

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