There’s always the danger of being over sentimental when critiquing a film released soon after its lead passes. It could easily have been the issue here with Lucky, the directorial debut of actor John Carroll Lynch (The Founder) and one of the last films to feature Harry Dean Stanton, who left us in September of 2017. However, even if Stanton had still been here to see its release, it wouldn’t stop Lucky from being a wonderful and special kind of feature.
At his home in an in unnamed western town, Lucky (Stanton) wakes up and begins his morning routine of yoga and cigarettes. For Lucky, now into his 90th year, life has become a series of routines like this one. There’s the trip to the diner for coffee, filling in the daily crossword puzzle, afternoon quiz shows and evening drinks. It all gives Lucky a sense of purpose, even if he won’t be the first to admit it. Then something happens, Lucky collapses at home. It’s nothing major and he recovers fully, but it’s left something indelible on his mind, an acceptance that Lucky has probably been shuffling from for some time. His body is beginning to shut up shop; Lucky will one day die. It’s completely unavoidable.
In other films, faced with their own mortality, our lead would create a bucket list or try to reconnect with loved ones and heal old wounds. Perhaps, they may even find peace with whichever God they follow. Having never been married, with no children to speak of and a distinct disbelief in an afterlife, Lucky is alone. So, what does he do? He seeks comfort in the one thing he does have: his routines.
From this simple premise, Lucky unpacks so much emotion. In part because of the touching script by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, but largely because of Stanton’s captivating performance. There’s something special about watching the late actor at work, with even the simplest of movements managing to speak volumes about his character. If the screenplay had conjured up no words for him to say, Stanton would still have been able to floor you with a mournful look or beaming smile.
Lucky maintains his routines and belief system, but the audience witnesses minute changes to those. Seen before his fall to be rolling his eyes at a gay couple kissing, Lucky later watches Liberace on television and admonishes himself for being so concerned about the flamboyant pianist’s sexuality. Elsewhere, a moment of raw honesty about the fear inside of him loops back to an earlier tale of his first realisation that there is nothing beyond the veil and how much that terrified him.
If this all sounds like too much maudlin melodrama, then fear not, for Lucky is as heart-warming as it is introspective. For all his re-evaluating, Lucky is still a cantankerous old coot and his interactions with those you would loosely describe as friends will bring a smile to your face. In a supporting cast that includes Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt and Ron Livingston, perhaps surprisingly the stand out is David Lynch as Howard, a mild mannered, absurdly dressed Stan Laurel type whose pet tortoise has run away from him. Lynch and Stanton make a great onscreen duo, as they bicker about whether Howard’s pet truly planned his escape. It’s these surrealistic moments that provide a reprieve from the film’s more dramatic qualities without watering them down.
Raw, honest and poetic, Lucky is not only a film that should be embraced by all; it is without doubt a fitting tribute to one of America’s greatest actors.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10