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Blitz hits the jackpot with “Lucky.”

Blitz hits the jackpot with “Lucky.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Jeffrey Blitz walks a deceptively fine line in “Lucky,” a film that looks at the effects of winning the lottery on a variety of individuals and families. It would be easy – too easy — to screw this up. The lottery, with its false hope and promise of randomly granted affluence, makes an ideal bête noire for any filmmaker or artist extolling the value of hard work and the evils of capitalism; the temptation is probably too great to just show us the oft-repeated fact that a large percentage of these winners wind up losing all their money. Indeed, one fears the worst when the film’s early scenes show us a working-class African-American woman from Delaware obsessed with the lottery. As Blitz’s camera follows her buying tickets, spending around $100 a day, and dreaming about all the things she’ll do once she hits the jackpot, it’s hard not to think we’re about to be scolded again.

Luckily, Blitz isn’t too interested in preaching to us. He employs the same cross-sectional approach he employed in “Spellbound,” following people from all walks of life whose lives were changed by the lottery, but this time there’s little common purpose. They’ve all won already. What fascinates the filmmaker are the divergent paths they took after their victories. One Vietnamese immigrant from Lincoln, Neb., one of eight winners of a record-breaking, $300 million-plus jackpot, uses his newfound money to build a series of large homes right next to one another and bring his family closer to home; he then builds a massive mansion in Vietnam, so 50 or so members of his family back there can live together. A New Jersey couple, the sole winners of a staggering $110 million, give money to neighbors in need and a series of charities, before moving off to Sarasota, Fla. and buying one of the chintziest houses I’ve ever seen, including a pool with the letters “PB” (for Powerball) painted on the bottom. One winner — a troubled, suicidal loner who split his last $3 on food for his nine cats and a Powerball ticket — gets cleaned up, buys a nice suit and a big house — then realizes he wants to go back to living a simple life and checks into a motel.

01262010_Lucky2.jpgThere is a bit of disconnect here: “Lucky” is fascinating, but one might wonder what it’s actually about. There’s no real overarching philosophy to the director’s approach. He seems content to sit back and revel in the cosmic joke that seems to be at play whenever someone hits a jackpot. One subject, a brilliant Berkeley mathematician, fully aware of the insane odds against him, played the same numbers for years and eventually won $22 million: After using some of the money to finance a chair at his university in honor of his mentor, he found himself divorced, lonely, and looking for purpose in life. Another man, a local hero who saved a child from a burning building, won $16 million, and promptly found his life plunged into chaos when his siblings tried multiple times to try and kill him for the money; Blitz finds him destitute, sick, and living in the backroom of an auto body shop.

Extreme environments often reveal deep personality traits, and one on-camera interviewee likens winning the lottery to “throwing Miracle-Gro on all your character flaws.” “Lucky” effectively uses these life-changing events to explore its diverse characters. The lottery winds up being incidental to the tale: Blitz might as well be following a series of plane crash survivors. In the end, much like “Spellbound,” this is a film about the vast tapestry of human experience.

“Lucky” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

[Photos: “Lucky,” Big Beach Films, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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