Lucky (2010)

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 04/23/11 00:25:01

"The lottery is sweet and sour"
3 stars (Average)

The lottery is a powerful thing. For some, it’s a method of achieving a better life, flush with enough cash to permit the indulgence of any imaginable dream. For a few of the winners, the jackpot is a burden, distancing them from the life they once knew, forcing them to pull back on loved ones and the public at large. “Lucky” surveys lottery tales of winning and losing, observing the emotional strain and social discomfort that goes along with the gamble. For some, money doesn’t even begin to cover some of their troubles.

Quang is a Vietnamese immigrant working at a meat processing plant in Nebraska who, along with a group of his co-workers, invested in a winning lottery ticket; Verna is a older woman who spends up to $100 dollars a day on lottery tickets, but has yet to hit the big one; Robert is a mathematician who struck lottery gold, looking to use his winnings to better the world; Steve and Kristine are a couple who’ve found their lottery luck has crippled their social lives; Buddy is a small-town hero who won the lottery and promptly blew it all away on reckless decisions; and James is a mentally shattered man with animal hoarding problems who hit the jackpot, only to retain his meager lifestyle.

Director Jeffrey Blitz has assembled quite a collection of characters for “Lucky,” pulling people from all walks of life, unified by their participation in the lottery. Unfortunately, the talented documentarian (“Spellbound”) is unable to create a compelling piece of drama out of these idiosyncratic personalities, with much of the feature devoted to an aimless air of unremarkable discovery -- it appears the life of a lottery winner isn’t exactly more interesting than the longing of a loser. “Lucky” has a decent premise (also explored weekly on cable television programs), but questionable taste in subjects.

Stretching the film’s point of view to six stories of lottery luck doesn’t always provide a rush of insightful emotional change or bizarre behavior, with most of the subjects existing somewhere in a peaceful middle. They’re passive personalities welcoming a camera into their lives, with only the saga of Buddy and the misery of James creating a needed aura of instability to keep the film on its toes. That’s not to suggest the feature is boring, it merely lacks a more combustible set of faces and dreams needed to fuel an entire documentary. As it stands, “Lucky” is a credible snapshot of lottery vagaries, but the human insight isn’t nearly as powerful as it should be.

Perhaps the picture’s greatest story is found with Quang, who escaped Vietnam 15 years ago to make a life for himself in America, only to strike it rich. He’s a modest man, looking to create a suburban community for his family, slowly coming to grips with his fortune and the luxury it can buy. Robert is the same way, electing a more altruistic path for himself as the enormity of financial change begins to settle upon him.

Blitz uses animation to trace the history of the lottery and its ascension into the American Dream (creating a dangerous pattern of false hope, while encouraging addictive personalities), but the core of the feature relies on the experiences of the subjects, observing how they’ve dealt with the pressures of notoriety and, of course, highlighting how they’ve spent their money. While compelling when detailing the fallout from a lottery win and the predatory aspects of the lottery machine, Blitz seems more interested in making an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” at times, weakening any lasting educational appeal.

“Lucky” is a scattered movie that could’ve used more focus. Instead of a searing portrait of luck, resentment, and opportunity, the picture wanders around picking up little nuggets of behavior and transformation, unable to manufacture a sweeping portrait of a controversial institution.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.