If Judge Ian Visser won the lottery he'd buy DVD Verdict just to shut it down. That's how much he hates deadlines.
It could happen to you…
Is there a more appealing notion than that of winning the lottery? Just put down a couple of bucks and you could be set for life! And not just with a few million; nowadays multi-state lotteries can push the winning jackpots into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But what does that kind of money do to an individual? As winners, would we spend it all as fast as we could, or would the miser in us take over and jealously guard the hoard? Millions: A Lottery Story attempts to find out what happens when ordinary people are handed instant wealth.
Over the course of the documentary, director Paul LeBlanc interviews a collection of winners from across America. Included are a group of Minnesota lunch ladies who split $95 million, a farm couple struggling to maintain their rural sensibilities, a woman who still frets over spending a quarter at a flea market, and a pair of winners from the early 1980s who each ended up with almost nothing to show for their fantastic luck.
The majority of the winners profiled in Millions: A Lottery Story are regular people who have adjusted to their new wealth with a level-headed approach. Of the sixteen cafeteria workers who split nearly $100 million, the majority of them still work the same jobs for the same pay, and the aforementioned farm couple maintains their rural livelihood to ensure their children appreciate hard work and basic values like the ones they themselves were raised with. Overall, most of the winners profiled are just happy for the security the money has given them and have used their windfalls largely to support family members and friends in need.
The most interesting cases are those of Lou Eisenberg and Curtis Sharpe, the big winners who ended up back at square one. Eisenberg was the first $5 million lottery winner in the United States, courtesy of the New York State Lottery. Sharpe was close behind him, also winning a similar-sized jackpot. The sudden wealth made the pair celebrities, and they garnered appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and scored plenty of interviews with media from across the globe. Nearly thirty years later, however, they are both broke, Eisenberg having spent each monthly cheque as soon as it arrived and saving nothing for the future. Sharpe fared even worse, losing his windfall in a matter of years through crooked investments and bad financial decisions. Both just scrape by (Eisenberg survives on Social Security and a small pension, Sharpe is a preacher in Tennessee), humbled by the loss.
The problem with Millions: A Lottery Story is that, in most of these cases, the film really has nowhere to go once the initial introductions are made. It's great that the women who split a fortune still work at their old jobs, but after learning that tidbit, what more is there to it? The cases of Eisenberg and Sharpe are more compelling because it's natural to be curious how someone could so poorly manage such a significant windfall. Less so is a collection of people who still maintain the same lifestyle, only with less stress. A boring story is still boring, even if there is enough money in the bank to finance a small revolution or buy your own island.
The technical aspects of this release are equally disappointing. The widescreen image and 2-channel audio track are average at best, and there are no extras at all. Hours of footage and no cut scenes or bonus interviews? That's pretty stingy for a DVD release these days.
Millions: A Lottery Story would have benefitted from focusing on the stories of Eisenberg and Sharpe and jettisoning the remainder of the winners who are featured. Yes, it's heartwarming to witness the relief of parents who can now be assured that their children will attend college, but it doesn't make for interesting entertainment.
Despite its good intentions, there isn't enough compelling material to be found in Millions: A Lottery Story to hold a viewer's interest.
Guilty as charged.
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