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.
The anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio) presentation holds to a modest documentary display, with feeble colors and instances of EE and jagged edges popping up to cripple whatever natural look the film was aiming for. There are multiple video sources to digest here, with the DVD delivering a soft image that reflects the low-grade cinematography, also pulling life out of colors. No major digital hiccups were detected during the film.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound design supplies a smooth frontal force that respects the quality of the interviews, with all verbal information cleanly represented. Scoring is competently deployed, buttressing the on-screen activity well, though it never takes command. While lacking dimension, the track is supportive, contributing the basics without fuss.
No subtitles are included.
“Dung Tran” (6:05) follows Quang’s co-worker (and fellow lottery winner) around as he builds his life with his newly acquired money, again underlining the film’s interest in the leap from poverty to wealth.
“Ken Dikkersun” (5:27) chats up a lotto writer, who expounds on his belief in games of chance.
“Phillip Pina” (8:48) heads to New Mexico to interview another lottery winner, a man who retained his normalcy while barraged with mailed requests for free money.
“Milt & Carlene Laird” (7:21) is another lotto success story, this time spotlighting the fortunes of a retired couple who almost lost everything at the very point they struck it rich.
A Trailer has not been included.
“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.