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SUNDANCE REVIEW: LUCKY, THE LOTTERY-WINNER DOC

By 01.26.10

Lucky, from director Jeffrey Blitz (Rocket Science, Spellbound), is a feature-length documentary that follows five lottery winners, including:

  • Quang Dao, a Vietnamese immigrant working the night shift at a ConAgra plant in Nebraska who wins a $22 million powerball and buys a plot of land on which to build houses for he and his sons.
  • James, a 44-year-old hoarder and former momma’s boy who’d gone into a deep depression after his parents died and lived alone with 20 cats, months worth of their poop, and hair and beard that he hadn’t cut in two years. That’s when he spent his last $3 on a ticket that won him $5 million.  Which he used to adopt even more cats that he visits twice a day in a used-car lot, and move into a cheap motel where he’s content, surrounded by his eccentric neighbors and the call girls he orders from time to time with whom he presumably discusses his cats.
  • Robert, a Berkeley mathematician who wins $22 million, which he uses to fund a chair at Berkeley in honor of the math professor he says “was responsible for all the good things that ever happened in my life.”  In a shocking turn of events, the professor is Asian.
  • Buddy, a Pennsylvania townie who won $16 million just weeks after being hailed as a hero for running into a burning building to save a young boy, who blows all his money on all manner of things (400 pairs of the same pants, for instance) and is eventually targeted by a hitman hired by his siblings, who also tried to poison him with Arsenic and another time bought him a Corvette whose chassis they’d unbolted from the body in the hopes that he’d crash.
  • Kristine and Steve, a middle-class New Jersey couple who win $110 million and become alienated from friends and inundated with mail from people all over the world begging for money, including a German dwarf who needs it to pay for a limb-lengthening procedure “so that he can finally know true love.”

Sound interesting?  Yeah, well it is.

Documentaries are tough to review because to a certain extent, you’re either the type of person that likes to watch them or the type who runs, fearing they’ll be like sitting through a boring lecture at school (and some are).  I confess to being the first type, and also to being ruggedly handsome.  Mark Twain once said (and remind me to give myself a wedgie for beginning a sentence like this) “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

And what’s more implausible than the idea of winning the lottery?  Blitz wisely takes a sort of hands-off approach to the material, letting the characters’ stories speak for themselves without too much philosophical masturbation about fate.  What can I say, I was into all of their stories. Especially James, who I could watch an entire film about alone.  It might have been the kitties that got to me.  What?  Shut up.  No, you’re crying.

There were very few things about this film that I thought could’ve been handled any better, and that’s high praise because I’m really smart.

Grade: A

Additional notes:

  • Armchair prediction: expect to see it on cable in six to 12 months.
  • Did I mention James’ former boss and de-facto manager is a guy with a pompadour toupé and Hawaiian shirt with pictures of bacon on it?  Because he totally is.

TAGSDocumentariesJEFFREY BLITZLOTTERYLUCKYreviewssundance

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