For as long as they've been making movies, they've been making movies in which a crabby older person finds purpose and redemption by caring for a younger person in serious need of guidance. Titles as varied as Walter Salles' Oscar-nominated "Central Station" and Wes Anderson's "Rushmore" immediately spring to mind, as does Luc Besson's "The Professional," along with any movie made in the last decade and starring Clint Eastwood. You can add to that list Avie Luthra's thoughtful culture-clash drama "Lucky," which, despite potentially exploitive plot-point hardships like racism and AIDS, refrains from succumbing to the overt manipulation that can often befall its genre.
Expanded from Luthra's 2005 short of the same name, "Lucky" tells the story of a 10-year-old boy called Lucky (Sihle Dlamini) who seems to be anything but. We meet the young man just as his late mother's body arrives in their poor South African village for burial, after which the angry and sad Lucky lights out for the big city in search of an uncle who has been charged with Lucky's education. When things with his greedy relative don't turn out so well, Lucky latches onto Padma (Jayashree Basavaraj), an irritable Indian neighbor who really seems to miss the injustice of apartheid.
At first unconcerned, Padma hits upon a way to make government money off of the orphaned Lucky as he keeps her apartment tidy, though you can sense that Padma may be subconsciously trying to fill an inner void of her own. "Lucky" ventures off into road-trip territory with the help of a kindly bilingual cabbie, who enables the pair to communicate and ferries them around as they search for the man who may be Lucky's dad. Revealing details about all the parties involved emerge to shed light on misgivings and motivations, with Luthra's minimalist script striking a deft balance between truth and sentimentality.
"Lucky" is very deliberately paced, its origins as a short film often evident in scenes that drag on perhaps a little longer than necessary. And with the exception of James Ngcob as the cartoonishly awful Uncle Jabulani, the performances are stellar. The restrained Dlamini sheds silent, brave tears like a champ, and the beautifully feisty Basavaraj makes Padma's gradual evolution quite convincing, not once stooping to unearned emotion. "Lucky" is perhaps the highest-profile film yet from executive producer/former Monroe County Legislator/Smugtown Beacon co-founder Christopher J. Wilmot. Next up: the Elijah Wood-Kristen Wiig comedy "Revenge For Jolly!" Catch the "Lucky" premiere at Pittsford Cinemas Friday, September 7, with a red-carpet event at 6:30 p.m., followed by a 7:10 p.m. screening.