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MOVIE REVIEW

'Luck by Chance'

Writer-director Zoya Akhtar displays assured storytelling skills in a film about chasing fame in India's movie industry.

February 02, 2009|Mark Olsen

Most foreign-language films hit American theaters at some remove from their debut in their home country, which makes the simultaneous release of "Luck by Chance" in its native India, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere seem charged with an unusual excitement.

Something of an old-fashioned backstage musical, written and directed by Zoya Akhtar (and her directing debut at that), "Luck by Chance" is a sharp look at how stardom is both desired and created and the personal and professional toll it can take on those who pursue it. And it's fun too.

That "Luck" is able to be both an affectionate valentine and acidic satire of India's filmmaking scene is a testament to Akhtar's storytelling. An aspiring actor (Farhan Akhtar, the director's brother) schemes and strives his way into a leading role opposite a rising starlet. He manages to charm both his costar and her stage-mom mother, herself a onetime star. Along the way, there is much back-stabbing, romantic intrigue and media manipulation and a little actual work.

While it is required by the Movie Reviewing Handbook that one must compare "Luck by Chance" in some way to "Slumdog Millionaire" -- the set-in-India, top-of-mind Oscar front runner -- the film actually bears a stronger resemblance to another Oscar contender, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Both films are willing to face storytelling cliches head-on and refashion them not by winking irony, but with a clear-eyed sincerity matched by a skillful knowingness of when to ease off just enough to keep things from toppling into inanity.

"Luck" is overlong by Hollywood standards of narrative economy, yet at times, such as when secret off-screen lovers sing a romantic ballad to each other while working on-set, the film attains an emotional richness that is nothing less than startling.

Where "Slumdog," with its signature "It is written" take on fate, implies that things happen because they must, "Luck by Chance" concludes that we each have a hand in determining our own destiny. As it should be, for in this winningly glitter-spangled variation on "All About Eve," the freewheeling fun and delicate heart-tugging of "Luck by Chance" is no accident.

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'Luck by Chance'

MPAA rating: Unrated; in Hindi with English subtitles.

Running time: 2 hours,

43 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's Fallbrook 7, 6731 Fallbrook Ave., West Hills, (818) 340-8710; Phoenix Adlabs Norwalk 8, 13917 Pioneer Blvd., Norwalk, (562) 804-5615; Culver Plaza Theater, 9919 Washington Blvd., Culver City (310) 836-5516

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