Sasie Sealy’s “Lucky Grandma” Teaches You to Respect Your Elders

Sasie Sealy’s “Lucky Grandma” Teaches You to Respect Your Elders

Sasie Sealy weaves a crime story within a tale of old age, regret, grief, and family.

Director and co-writer Sasie Sealy’s Lucky Grandma follows Grandma Wong, a retired widow who lives alone in an apartment in Chinatown, New York City. After recently losing her husband, she’s become a vehemently independent person and insists on taking care of herself.  Plus, she is waiting for October 28, a day her fortune teller told her would be a day of great luck. As she attempts to put her late husband in the back of her mind, she is in the first stage of grief: denial.

On October 28, Grandma takes a bus, with other retired seniors to a casino about three hours out of the city. There, she plays the number eight whenever possible. Throughout the night she keeps on winning, making thousands of dollars until the last game when she loses on an “all-in.” On the ride back, the man sitting next to her dies suddenly from a heart attack. The bus then makes a rough turn, causing the departed gentleman’s bag to drop from the overhead shelf. She peeks inside and finds stacks of cash.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t receive much fortune after this find. The deceased man had mob connections and the money belonged to them. Two goons begin to pursue her, not only invading her apartment and breaking her things but also insulting her. This prompts her to hire a bodyguard, Big Pong, who is from a rival gang. Big Pong is a very sweet and kind person, despite his large mass and nearly seven-foot height. He fights off the goons quite easily, but also watches Chinese soap operas with Grandma and has dinner with her son and two young grandchildren.

Lucky Grandma is about getting older, grief, and fate versus hope. Grandma pursues luck the entire film, even returning to the fortune teller for some sense of a positive future. Grandma continues to dig a hole deeper and deeper for herself in the pursuit of a fantasy. She will not admit to either gang that she stole mafia money, not out of pride but out of arrogance. She worked her entire life for her husband to leave her nothing and now she has something, and she believes she deserves it. She lives with the delusion that no matter what goes wrong she’ll get her win just due to what some fortune teller told her. When people keep asking her about the money, she continues to deny her involvement, using age as an excuse. When they ask her if she saw the deceased man’s bag on the bus she tells them her eyes aren’t so good, when in reality they’re fine. When they insult her, she tells them to “respect your elders.”

Big Pong pays her respect because he doesn’t know she stole money. He knows that a gang has been harassing her, but he doesn’t know why and never asks. The goons never hurt her, but they only get more aggressive the more she denies having their money. Everybody is looking for respect. Grandma wants to manipulate respect by playing stupid. The gang simply wants what’s theirs and don’t want to be played for a fool.

People can become desperate when served a cocktail of grief and debt. Grandma wants to be left alone without consequences for her actions, but that can’t happen in reality. When the goons ask her if she wants the money, she denies it; when they continue after her, she gets angry; when all hope seems lost, she bargains; when reality starts to seep past her wants and desire, she becomes depressed; and in the end there are things she needs to accept. The stages of grief help structure the movie and push forward the characters and the story into unexpected places, exciting moments, and heartbreaking revelations.

Grandma is an anti-hero to the extent that she does wrong things for right, or at least understandable, reasons. Depicting age this way is an interesting and original take. We are all told to respect our elders, but to what extent? What if crime is involved and they recklessly endanger the lives of others? If the mafia gets involved, maybe set respect aside for a few moments to turn down the temperature of the hot water everyone is getting into.

Lucky Grandma is equally a crime thriller, a dark comedy, a family drama,  and a character study. There are moments of real tension when the cinematography turns from the normally still and smooth camera to handheld and shaky; moments when you are laughing out loud, sometimes at violence and sometimes at an innocent joke; and moments when you are trying to understand Grandma’s reasoning, especially when her family is in danger. It was a very enjoyable watch and a film I think everyone from a young adult to a senior would enjoy.

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