UMB Film Series screened 'Lucky' on Nov. 7

Covered in tattoos and piercings, most notably on her face, and clad in eclectic clothes draped over her waifish frame, Lucky faces obstacles with a characteristic mix of jaded despondence and earnest grit. 

Laura Checkoway’s documentary, “Lucky,” is a gritty portrait of the life of Lucky Torres, a young woman struggling to overcome seemingly insurmountable circumstances. Grappling with memories of a tragic childhood, Lucky contends with multiple demons in an effort to improve her life and that of her young son, Joziah.

Viewers follow Lucky as she navigates a life fraught with setbacks in the rougher parts of New York City. Covered in tattoos and piercings, most notably on her face, and clad in eclectic clothes draped over her waifish frame, Lucky faces obstacles with a characteristic mix of jaded despondence and earnest grit. Bouncing from shelter to shelter, borough to borough, Lucky searches for stability, security, and peace. 

Toward the beginning of the film, Lucky briefly recounts her troubled past. Never adopted, she spent her childhood in a corrupt and dysfunctional foster system. This painful memory pervades her adult life. It becomes clear that despite her threatening exterior, Lucky is plagued by an inner turmoil.

The film reveals the complexities of a life full of consecutive and often overlapping adversities. Throughout the course of the film, the audience is given permission to witness difficult and deeply personal moments in Lucky’s life. Viewers watch as she is swept away by whirlwind romances, deals with the complications of a fragmented family, and battles a mood disorder. Still, Lucky persists with an inner fortitude that fuels her ongoing struggle to survive.

This film is a carefully crafted, true-to-life documentary. Its intent is clear: to present an authentic view of life from Lucky’s unique perspective. The film avoids devolving into a trite or condescending tale of inner city strife. While the underlying themes of childhood, poverty, and sexuality give “Lucky” multidimensionality, Checkoway is careful to ensure that Lucky’s individual story is the primary focus of the film.

Simple in presentation, the film possesses an understated power. Several scenes capture the poignancy that lies beneath the monotony of daily life. In one such scene, Joziah is left to live with two surrogate mothers. As one of the women stands in a doorway, she pensively hypothesizes the cause of Lucky’s instability, eventually reassuring herself that everything will work out. In another scene, after reuniting with their paternal grandmother, Lucky and her sister, Fantasy, are shown tenderly snuggling the gentle woman with a moving childlike innocence.

Cinematically, “Lucky” is well-constructed. The documentary is comprised of biographical vignettes interwoven to produce a larger, comprehensive picture. The editing is simple and reflects director’s aim to show life as it is. The director’s use of images and audio is simple, yet effectively complements the primary story. Checkoway’s artistic choices are well executed and enhance the film’s authenticity.

“Lucky” is a highly affecting and hard-hitting documentary. It is raw and honest in its portrayal of urban melancholia. It is a harrowing character-driven film that chronicles one woman’s struggle to find her place in the world. Despite its focus on a singular character facing unique circumstances, its message of tenacity is universal. Therefore, all audiences have something to gain from this eye-opening documentary.

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