What’s it like to win the lottery? Not as interesting as you might expect, at least according to the documentary Lucky, which keeps hovering on just this side of being truly intriguing. Jeffrey Blitz, director of the very excellent doc Spellbound, examines the lives of four lottery winners, and he makes some interesting choices. One is a guy who had been hailed as a hero just the year before his win, and who then went through his 16 million like a hot knife through butter. There’s an upper middle class family who promised to not let money change them and then did, even though they don’t realize it. There’s a mathematician who, even though he’s totally level-headed and logical and understands randomness and odds, can’t help but feel like there was a force at work in his win. And then there’s a Vietnamese immigrant who uses the money to help his family in the US and back in Vietnam.
Each of these tales are interesting and each of them contains a narrative arc. But there’s something missing, and I can’t quite put my finger on what. These stories, mixed with interesting facts and figures about the lottery and its history, make for fine viewing but they don’t exactly come together as a movie. It’s like Blitz is missing the one final story or angle that ties it all together; right now Lucky feels like a couple of episodes of a diverting A&E series spliced together.
One thing that did strike me when walking out of the film is that each member of the audience seemed to like a different set of characters. I was charmed by the Vietnamese family, while others disliked them. I hated the upper middle class folks, but others identified with them. Maybe that’s the source of the film’s middling impact – there’s no one audience identification story/character, and so the viewer is drifting through these stories without anything to guide them.
Lucky also dives in and out of the lives of these winners. Rather than actually following them and documenting them as they adjust to their newfound sudden wealth, the filmmakers come by and do interviews at intervals. It’s less dramatic being told what happened or how people feel than seeing it for ourselves. The son of the upper middle class couple talks about getting lost the first week in their new Florida mansion – I would have much rather have seen him wandering than to hear him tell me about it.
Blitz makes some motions towards documenting a woman who plays the lottery every day but who has never won big, but the film spends most of its time with the winners. I found myself wondering more about this woman, though, and what it is that drives her to play every single day, losing thousands of dollars a year. Blitz barely connects the lottery to gambling or gambling addiction, and he spends no time talking to people who think that the lottery is bad for society. Perhaps it’s not too late to go and add a thread about that, as it turns out people who win the lottery simply don’t make as fascinating subjects as he might have thought.
6 out of 10