Film Review – Luck
When it comes to animation – especially ones featuring fantastical, imaginative environments – world building is vital. Whether its magical castles, distant planets, or multiverse dimensions, being able to create a place characters can believably exist in can make or break a film. Monsters, Inc. (2001), made us believe that a human world and a monster world are connected by enchanted doors. Wolfwalkers (2020) created a medieval Ireland where humans can transform into wolves. The rules of a place must be defined well enough so that every action makes sense within the context of the story. Otherwise, we run the risk of the plot feeling as if it were being made up on the spot. That, sadly, is what happens in Luck (2022).
The premise is intriguing – suggesting that what we perceive as good or bad luck isn’t the result of happenstance or timing. Instead, luck is the product of another realm whose sole purpose is to manufacture it through an assembly line. We’re introduced to “The Land of Luck,” a globe-like setting split in half. Each hemisphere is devoted to creating either “good” or “bad” luck. Visually, the animation denotes each side fairly obviously. The good side is built with white walls, floating golden platforms, and pristine marble. The bad side appears barely able to function with rickety piping, dark shadows, and towers on the verge of collapse. Both sides create an equal number of luck – represented by glowing orbs – that is popped into a “randomizer” to be distributed to people in the human world.
The writing (Kiel Murray, Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger) and direction (Peggy Holmes) create a foundation for how this universe operates, but doesn’t go much further beyond that. The Land of Luck exists completely on the surface – we never get a sense that this is a living, breathing place. Everything works apart from one another, instead of together. Whether it is rooms meant to create specific types of luck (“Bad Timing,” “Right Place, Wrong Time,” etc.), the various creatures that populate it (leprechauns, cats, pigs, rabbits, unicorns), to the massive dragon (Jane Fonda) overlooking the entire place, the elements never blend together cohesively.
Of course, the biggest issue here is the idea of luck itself. The narrative argues that a person’s fate is not determined by their fortitude or determination, but by a lottery. That is what befalls our protagonist, Sam (Eva Noblezada). Sam is a young woman who grew up in the foster care system. Unfortunately, she has not been able to find a family to call her own. Now too old to stay in a facility, Sam is sent to live by herself, get a job, and go to school. This proves to be a difficult transition, since she might be the unluckiest person on the planet. “Unlucky” mostly means “clumsy,” as Sam is unable to go an hour without bumping into, losing, or breaking something. How she’s gotten this far in life without serious injury is remarkable! Things change when Sam encounters a black cat named Bob (Simon Pegg). Bob is no ordinary feline, but a citizen of The Land of Luck. By accident, Sam gets transported to and trapped in Bob’s world. And so the two must figure out a way to get Sam home before her string of bad luck contaminates the natural order of things.
What follows is a plot-heavy series of events where Sam and Bob must do one thing to get to another thing to get to another thing. For Sam to get home, they have to get a lucky penny from the “luck floor,” but the coin has been lost, so they must travel to both the good and bad luck sides to find it. In the meantime, Bob tries to avoid detection from The Captain (Whoopi Goldberg) who is looking for any reason to banish him from their world. Oh, let’s not also forget about The Dragon, who can sniff out bad luck like a hound and can detect anyone who doesn’t belong. In the meantime, Sam disguises herself as a leprechaun, except that doesn’t hide the fact that she towers over everyone by at least 3 feet. Sam and Bob go here, there, grab one item, search for another, double back, criss cross, stop for a dance number – it goes on and on and on. A simple “get back home” story gets convoluted quickly as the narrative comes up with more reasons to extend the runtime. So much of this feels arbitrary, as though the film were creating the story in real time. Is there a reason why Bob has a collar that can project a holographic keyboard for him to hack into computer systems? Not really, but that is what we get.
With all the chaos, Luck misses out on the human story. There is some focus put on Sam’s upbringing and the feelings of loneliness she has with being an orphan. One of the most emotional moments comes when we see a list of Sam’s potential families, all of whom were unable to take her. When we see how long the list is, we can feel how much disappointment has been a part of her life. The image is repeated with Sam’s fellow orphan, Hazel (Adeline Spoon). Hazel is much younger than Sam and is just getting started in the foster system. Hazel’s list of possible families is short, but we understand how quickly that can stack up given Sam’s history. Knowing that Hazel’s future is still up in the air is a motivating factor for Sam. This dynamic makes for the strongest storyline, but is not nearly explored enough. It takes a back seat to the hijinks of Sam and Bob’s adventure.
Luck does have an earnest, innocent tone. There isn’t anything egregious about it, and I’m sure most families will walk away satisfied. But in a time where animation can do just about anything, where the storytelling avenues are boundless, this feels strangely underwhelming. It does just enough to entertain viewers in the moment, but has no lasting effect. Themes and topics are lightly examined, and the details of its world building are underdeveloped. It takes its potential and does very little with it.