Film Review: Lucky

A small, humble, pleasingly hard-edged drama with moments of wry comedy, Lucky offers a few sweet references to Harry Dean Stanton’s key roles, a fairly stark but somehow kind-hearted view of fate, and a cast you just know turned up to honour their frail old friend.

The great Harry Dean Stanton (that rarest of breeds, a star character actor) died on September 15 at 91 and therefore didn’t live to see the release of this, his not-quite-final film, and it’s obviously intended by actor-turned-first-time-director John Carroll Lynch as a tribute to this beloved cult figure and his 50+ year career.

Harry’s elderly Lucky (his surname is a mystery) is a longtime resident of a small, unnamed American town possibly near the Mexican border, and he’s introduced smoking a morning cigarette, doing yoga stretches and walking slowly against rural backdrops that recall his more epic wanderings in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. His daily routine of diner visits, crossword puzzles, check-ins with pals and other decades-long habits can’t go on forever, and when he has a funny turn, his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) advises him that while he’s somehow still in good health, he has to accept the fact that he’s “old and getting older”.

Hopelessly-set-in-his-ways and stubbornly atheist Lucky is then forced to confront “the void”. Stanton allows you to quietly see his subtle inner turmoil as he drives his buddies crazy, grapples with the strangeness of contemporary times, deals with some past shame and, of course, breaks into song when you least expect it.

Director Carroll Lynch (who made a splash as Frances McDormand’s husband Norm in the original Fargo and was recently seen as Lyndon B. Johnson in Jackie) and screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja demonstrate a fondness for talkiness here, but it’s good talk, and the players are all fine, with Tom Skerritt (Harry’s co-star in the original Alien) in a lovely cameo and no less than David Lynch in a few scenes as the somewhat Lynch-ian Howard. Lynch worked with Stanton often and around the time this was in production Harry featured in his revival of Twin Peaks (Lynch loved him and liked to call him ‘God’), and he’s very charming here as a man in mourning for his escaped pet tortoise.

But, in the end, Stanton’s the whole show, whether he’s strolling in rather wobbly fashion to the tune of a rambling harmonica version of Red River Valley (which he also sang briefly in the new Twin Peaks), persisting in lighting up despite no smoking laws, silently agonising over his looming demise, smiling wonkily or even apparently breaking the fourth wall just a little. Yes, he was a legend, and you do have to wonder who’s going to take his place.

Rated MA. Lucky is in cinemas now.

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