American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
'Millions (A Lottery Story)" is not so much about six lottery winners as about six people who I watched with growing fascination and affection. What did I expect when the movie began? Former millionaires now on Skid Row, I suppose, contrasted with misers counting their compound interest and intercut with bizarre misadventures. What I found were people who, if I may say so, are utterly unfazed by their sudden wealth, and who have developed strategies for coping not with wealth or poverty, but with life. They all seem happy, and it has nothing to do with the lottery.
The movie follows four kitchen workers from a Minnesota high school and two New Yorkers who were once famous because they were the first to win $5 million at the dawn of the lottery and became the stars of television ads. The Minnesotans, 16 altogether, split up $95,450,000 on a shared Powerball ticket, which works out to $5,965,625 apiece, a figure none of them ever once mentions.
They're from Holdingford, Minn., a town which Garrison Keillor himself once called "the Lake Wobegon-ist town in Minnesota." The town is so typical of his monologues that not only are the high schoolers' grades above average, but the interstate highway makes a four-mile detour just to avoid it. Of the four women we meet, all come from large families (I'm talking like 11 or 16 kids), all worked hard on family dairy farms, many still keep dairy cattle as a second job, and none of them quit their jobs in the high school kitchen.
Phylis Breth is most eloquent about staying on the job. "These are my best friends, and I love my work." She is a dishwasher and uses a little laugh to end many sentences. "I've got bad knees, I've had four surgeries, and this job keeps you going. On days when they serve mashed potatoes or cheese, it gets pretty hectic." Like some of the others, she bought a new house, not a mansion, just comfy, and she finally has what she long dreamed of, a refrigerator with an ice-cube maker. She still hits all the garage sales, pouncing on a $2 ice cream scoop.