"Lucky Them" isn't purely about music. The wry drama follows a music journalist (Toni Collette) on assignment to track down her ex-boyfriend, a reclusive musician who disappeared a decade earlier. It's also about loss in general, and the struggle to move on and grow up -- or at least grow out of destructive habits.
But music is a constant presence in the film. The Seattle music scene, so lovingly and authentically rendered, is practically a character in of itself. And the love of music is behind so much of what its characters do.
It's that same love that brought co-screenwriter Emily Wachtel, director Megan Griffiths and star Toni Collette together to make the film. Inspired by her dueling love of music and elusive men, writer and actress Wachtel started writing the loosely autobiographical script eleven years ago. Given her close connection to the New York scene, it made sense to set the story in that world.
"I was very involved in the music scene,” Wachtell tells The Huffington Post the morning after the rapturously received "Lucky Them" world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I had a lot of friends who were musicians. I'm a big music lover... I'm a groupie! So... I was going to avoid that word, but I'll use it. I'm a groupie and so, as a non-working actress, I went to a lot of music shows, mostly because music made my life feel better than it was. You know how music does that. Or it gives you hope.”
That feeling is part of what attracted Griffiths to the project a few years ago. "Partially it was the music connection, because I’m a big music lover," says Griffiths, who moved to Seattle in part because of a lifelong love of grunge. "But it was also the characters. They all reminded me of someone I knew and they all felt very real and authentic."
And once she came on board and convinced Wachtel to move the film to Seattle, the director and writer started feeling each other out the way any good music geeks would: they made each other mix CDs.
"We were feeling each other out and what each other were listening to," Wachtel explains. "I gave her a lot of songs that were inspiring me while I was writing and artists that I loved and she gave me artists that she was listening to that were Seattle-based, so I was getting a sense of Seattle."
A lot songs from those early mixes ended up on the film's soundtrack.
While the pair didn't woo their lead actress with CDs, they did impress Toni Collette with their musical passion and knowledge. “I am a huge music fan. I can't imagine my life or the world without music," the "United States of Tara" and "Velvet Goldmine" actress says. "When I read the script, I not only related to my character's journey as it were, but the world itself. It was incredibly appealing to me and I definitely felt like I could relate to all of it."
Collette did have a few minor misgivings when she was first considering "Lucky Them," but Griffiths quickly put her mind at ease.
"When I read something that's set in the music business or the film industry, it makes me nervous that the world is not going to be realized in a truthful way. But when I first spoke to Megan, I realized that she got it. She lives in Seattle and she loves music, too, and she wanted to tell a very real story, not make it cheesy or tacky or the way it could have turned if there was someone else at the helm.
Beyond an understanding of the world that the characters live in, the director's involvement in the Seattle scene gave her a lot of access and support that an outsider wouldn't necessarily have. Legendary local label Sub Pop even gave her and her crew unparalleled access to their memorabilia.
"Sub Pop just kind of opened their doors to our art department and said 'Take anything off our walls and use it in the movie!' So there's all this Seattle history on the walls. Old Mudhoney show posters. The Shins gold record. The Postal Service gold record. A guitar from the guy from The Presidents of the United States of America. Just random Seattle music history represented all over the place."
Apparently the film's musical love-in was just short of all-powerful, though. It was enough to convince Johnny Depp to make a cameo appearance as the Cobain-esque rocker that Collette has been searching for, but not quite enough to convince him that he should provide the vocals for his character's music.
"I brought it up on set," Griffiths admits. "I just asked him if he would ever consider singing for a film and he said only if forced. Obviously, he loves music. He plays guitar and and he plays with bands and just sort of shows up and does cameo backing spots. I think he would love do that kind of thing, but I don't think singing is his first love. 'Sweeny Todd' was the exception to the rule. I don't have the sway that Tim Burton does.”
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