Director: John Carroll Lynch
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr.
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Read our review with director John Carroll Lynch
Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch makes an impressive feature debut with this charming and affecting indie drama that’s simultaneously heart-warming, wryly funny and tinged with melancholy. It’s co-written by Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks, the latter an old friend of actor Harry Dean Stanton, and their script is intended as a swansong to Stanton, drawing biographical details from his life and subtly referencing a number of his films.
The actual plot is deceptively low-key, resembling a perfectly crafted short story. Stanton plays Lucky (the credits announce “Harry Dean Stanton IS Lucky”), an unmarried, self-sufficient 90 year old who lives on the edge of a small desert community and diligently performs the same ritual every day: glass of milk, morning exercises, pack of cigarettes bought from a nearby shop, breakfast at the local diner, back home for game shows and cigarettes and then an evening propping up the bar at his customary watering hole.
The only break to that routine comes when Lucky has a nasty fall and visits his doctor (a superb single-scene cameo from Ed Begley Jr.), who bemusedly informs him that he’s in perfect health (Stanton was 89 when he made the film and it’s assumed Lucky is roughly the same age). Nevertheless, the incident serves as a reminder of his mortality and stirs something in Lucky, even if his daily routine remains largely unchanged.
Always a world-class character actor, Stanton is a delight to watch as Lucky, his measured pace and craggy, lived-in face depicting a man at peace with himself and his place in the world. The film never stoops to anything as vulgar as proselytising, but it’s nonetheless noted that Lucky is an atheist, which informs the film’s central message: that life is all there is, and should be enjoyed on a daily basis.
To that end, Lynch does a terrific job of creating a sense of community, thanks to a wonderful supporting cast, each of whom are given their chance to shine. Stand-outs include: Yvonne Huff as Loretta, the diner waitress who frequently pops by to check up on Lucky and get high with him while watching game shows; James Darren (of Gidget and T.J. Hooker fame) as a smooth-tongued charmer who’s been tamed by his relationship with the bar owner (Beth Grant, also great); and a simply magical turn from David Lynch (no relation to John Carroll) as Lucky’s best friend, Howard, whose despair regarding his “runaway” tortoise forms the film’s brilliantly surreal subplot.
Each of Lucky’s encounters (whether singular or repeated) is beautifully observed, whether laugh-out-loud funny, like his impassioned tirade against Deal Or No Deal, or profoundly moving, such as the film’s best scene, when he sings a mournful Spanish song at a birthday party for the 10-year-old son of the local shopkeeper (Bertila Damas).
Throughout the film, there are echoes of Stanton’s most iconic roles, from the desert town setting that references Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (also present in the film’s patient observation of Lucky’s slow-but-steady walk) to a de facto Alien reunion, when fellow cast member Tom Skerrit shows up.
The film is gorgeously photographed by cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt (who makes the most of the desert locations) and there’s a perfectly pitched score from Elvis Kuehn, as well as contributions from Stanton on his beloved harmonica, including a lovely rendition of Red River Valley. Beautifully directed and utterly charming, Lucky stands as a heartfelt tribute to Stanton’s career. It’s also one of the best films of the year. Don’t miss it.