Tuesday 16 August 2011

Movie Review: Lucky (2010)

What happens to the winners of large lottery prizes? After the celebratory photos with the oversized cheques and the newspaper stories about huge payouts, how do the lives of the winners change?

In Lucky, documentary film-maker Jeffrey Blitz sets out to explore lives altered by huge injections of cash, and in chronicling the story of five state lottery winners, he finds experiences ranging from the rational to the tragic.

A calm mathematics professor is best equipped to manage his new-found wealth. Although his marriage crumbles, he finds a new love, takes up singing lessons, and uses his money to create educational opportunities for others. Similarly, a Vietnamese immigrant puts his new fortune to good use by providing better housing for his extended family, both in the US and in Vietnam.

Other winners have more mixed fortunes. A middle class couple jump up the societal ladder to the company of elites, lose all their old friends, struggle to redefine themselves, and eventually move to Florida to start a new life in a neighbourhood of similarly rich folks. An old man wins the lottery with effectively his last dollar. Having lived the decrepit life of a hobo, and with clearly limited intellectual abilities, he is careful with his newly found wealth, but at least upgrades to living in a seedy motel room.

Most dramatically, an old geezer who won the lottery after saving a child from a burning building has no wealth management skills whatsoever. He fritters away his winnings as quickly as he can, withstands assassination plots from his own family members, and before long returns to a life of simple poverty.

Lucky is entertaining without being outstanding. Blitz intercuts the five stories to keep the film interesting, and holds back a few surprises that are revealed as stings in the tail, effectively building up the human drama. He also spices up the documentary with sometimes humorous factoids about lotteries in the United States.

But ultimately there is nothing flashy or pretentious about Lucky: Blitz allows the characters and events to tell their own tale with a minimum of fuss, and the film achieves it's objective of confirming that a large amount of unexpected money is more likely to enhance rather than change individual characteristics.

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