In what had to seem like a brilliant piece of counter-programming to the studios, in the face of the spider juggernaut, Warner Brothers opened this romantic drama with America's sweetheart, Drew Barrymore. Unfortunately, the film failed to make a splash of any sort at the box office, and is destined to slip away quickly, fading from the minds of moviegoers almost as fast as it entered it. The big question is whether or not it deserved this sad fate. I know the answer.
The answer is no, it deserves better. The film has a good heart, has a wonderfully organic flow, and is just really enjoyable in a light sort of way. Lucky You is a movie that centers on the interactions of its leads; the gambling that permeates the film is window dressing used to punctuate the problems faced by our lead character, Huck Cheever (Eric Bana). Cheever is a professional gambler, a man who has put all of his time and effort into making that one big score.
As good as he is, and he is good, he has to play with his head; when he does, he is unbeatable. He has a the ability to read people, he knows what you are going to do before you know yourself; but the moment the heart becomes involved, he loses it all.
In these heartfelt moments around the poker table, he is likely to go with his heart, quickly losing all that he has gained. His poker playing is the complete opposite of his personal life where he never allows his heart to become involved. He was hurt a long time ago by his father and he has never forgiven him for it. That event was traumatic enough that he is unable to make any lasting personal connections.
While attempting to come up with the entry fee for the World Poker Championship, his life is flipped with the return of his father, LC (Robert Duvall), a two-time champion looking for his third crown. Huck and LC do not get along all that well — they are not on speaking terms, and despite the strong similarities between their career paths, Huck does not want to be anything like his father. At the same time, he crosses paths with Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), a sweet would-be singer who has just arrived in town and is somehow able to chip away at Huck's personal armor.
The movie is advertised as something of a romance centered around poker, when it is actually the other way around. It has a romance in it, but it runs parallel and slightly behind the poker, and more importantly the returning connections of father and son. If anything, it is more the story of Eric Bana overcoming his past and his present, allowing himself to forgive himself, forgive his father, and rejoin a semblance of a real life, the ability to move forward, detached from the past.
What makes Lucky You so eminently watchable isn't the plot, so much as it is the performances and the flow of the film. It is not fast paced, and it is not exciting in the traditional sense, yet the performances draw you and the drama of the poker table hold you on the edge of your seat. There is an organic flow that feels natural, it feels very real, as if the people you are watching are real people and not fictitious creations. This is as much credit to the writers, Eric Roth and Curtis Hanson (who also directed), as it is to the actors — the two come together and make a union that is just great to watch as it unfolds. I never felt a rush to get through the plot, I was content to watch these characters go about their days, their obsessions, their mistakes, their successes.
Eric Bana is a fine actor who seemed to come out of nowhere over the past couple of years (at least to me). His portrayal of Huck Cheever is spot on, and his interactions with Robert Duvall are fantastic, the sparks fly as these two truly have a grasp on who their characters are. I believed in their relationship. Drew Barrymore is also fine in her smaller role, a naive singer who sees more humanity in Huck than he sees in himself. Taken together, along with an effective supporting cast that includes Horatio Sanz, Robert Downey Jr., and Jean Smart, they weave their performances seamlessly into the tapestry of the film.
Bottom line. Very good film. Perfect? No, but one that is anchored by a fine script and fine performances. Plus, the poker scenes don't feel scripted. They are, of course, but there's still a feeling of unpredictability to the way they play out. This is a slice of life type of film that glides along, in no hurry to conclude, and it works. This is a good movie that deserves more than to be swallowed by the spider-machine.