[Fantastic Fest 2023] YOUR LUCKY DAY -- A Decent Chamber Piece Thriller Undercut by Tremendously Weak Script
Review by Daniel Lima
There is little more disheartening than the dawning realization that the feature film you’re watching must be adapted from a short. That creeping feeling arrives early on in Your Lucky Day, the feature debut of writer-director Dan Brown that, yes, is adapted from his own 2010 short film of the same name. In spite of a clear directorial voice and a solid ensemble, the laborious and contrived script creates a ceiling for how effective the film can be.
On an inauspicious night in a corner store, a businessman wins a $156 million lottery ticket. He is immediately held at gunpoint by a down-on-his-luck drug dealer, which turns into a standoff with a beat cop. After a shootout that leaves both businessman and officer dead, the dealer attempts to convince the store owner and a young couple who happened to be there to assist him in covering things up. All parties are forced to adapt to a rapidly deteriorating situation that tests how far they’ll go for a chance at a better life.
This film seemingly has a lot on its mind. Much of what drives these characters is the harshness of their current economic reality, and the unfair hand they have been dealt simply by not being born rich. That the film is set in the first year of the Trump presidency is a deliberate attempt to invoke the ambient anger towards the hoarding of society’s wealth and resources, and it goes a long way in setting the tone of every scene.
To that end, the film adopts a naturalistic look and feel. Tight close-ups and subtle handhelds abound, giving the audience the same claustrophobic perspective as the characters as the night wears on. Cold, harsh florescent lights and extensive shadows stave off any comfort. When the tension ramps up, there is a clear understanding of how to maintain momentum and propulsive energy. For all the narrative failings, it’s clear that Brown has a handle of how to tell a story visually.
Chamber pieces can live and die on their cast, and this boasts plenty of solid performances. Every actor lends their character personality that goes far beyond what is written, from Mousa Hussein’s weary, weathered store owner to Elliot Knight’s sensitive and doting musician. The only person who seems ill-at-ease is Angus Cloud, unable to sell any of the emotional beats or weighty dialogue he’s tasked with. The clear standout, however, is Jessica Garza, turning in an intense and commanding performance that if there is any justice in the world, will be her breakout.
Yet as much as Your Lucky Day has going for it, it is all horribly undercut by the script. That this is a story of economic inequality, that these characters are fighting between their sense of morality and the immortality of the capitalist world, is glaringly obvious. The film opens with the title card “Based on the American Dream” — yet the dialogue constantly reiterates these themes and ideas. What should feel like a natural outgrowth of these characters’ lived experiences ends up feeling like a screenwriter on a crusade to speak to the issues, so the illusion of grounded realism is broken.
Even the dialogue that doesn’t directly comment on what the movie is about has a clumsiness that clashes with the film’s aesthetic. When they aren’t laying bare the core themes, characters give monologues neatly establishing backstory, calmly decide on their next course of action, even engage in lightly-comic banter. None of this is inherently bad, but it feels wildly incongruous with the naturalistic style, compounded further by how circular and repetitive the conversations are. It creates the impression that these people are just saying anything they can to fill time.
The need to pad things out is evident in how the story develops. About halfway through, there is a narrative turn that introduces new complications into the characters' plans, to decidedly mixed results. On the one hand, it allows for more tension-driven sequences that lean on the film’s strengths. On the other hand, it also introduces a new batch of ideas to grapple with that muddle the clarity of directorial vision. By the time the credits roll, it’s unclear what the film is actually trying to say, not because of a cultivated air of ambiguity, but because the narrative has gone into so many directions that it lost its sense of focus.
Ultimately, while Your Lucky Day serves as a decent calling card for a first-time director, it is an unremarkable showing for a first-time screenwriter. Consistently shooting itself in the foot with didactic messaging, clunky dialogue, and unrefined storytelling, it is all the more frustrating because of how strong all the other elements are.
Your Lucky Day is screening at the 2023 Fantastic Fest, which runs Septemeber 21-28 in Austin, Texas.