There is an anomaly that occurs just when it’s supposed to; a perfect performance. Harry Dean Stanton, the star of John Carroll Lynch’s new gem, is no stranger to show business. He’s been acting since the dawn of time. Paris, Texas — which is widely regarded as Stanton’s finest work — was released less than a month after I was born.
He’s got the chops, but it isn’t just that. Lucky isn’t just a sublime film, but a showcase of what Stanton is all about. His manipulation of an audience to make them feel included in the picture is totally remarkable.
Lucky is the story of a grizzled and grey atheist living alone in his little desert town. He may be a bit long in the tooth, but Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is hardly “old”. He starts each day with lively music, a healthy regimen of calisthenics, and enough coffee to make even this java enthusiast wary.
He enjoys his whole milk, his crosswords, his game shows, and his pack-a-day smokes. Lucky lives a simple life that isn’t simple at all.
His quotidian ambling through the cacti takes him to a local diner, a convenience store, and a bar. Each visit is a window into his sometimes cantankerous demeanor; a peek behind the curtain.
Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff) at his breakfast spot keep a close eye on him, admonishing his nicotine intake and even checking up on him at home. Bibi (Bertila Damas), the clerk at his mini-mart, invites him to her son’s birthday party. The crew at the neighborhood watering hole — Howard, Elaine, Paulie, and Vincent (David Lynch, Beth Grant, James Darren, and Hugo Armstrong, respectively) — see to his Bloody Mary needs and lend an ear to his intermittent venting.
While alone but not lonely — a meaningful distinction — behind Lucky’s eyes is the dread of things to come. An atheist, he doesn’t have the catchall heaven or hell plan. Where do we go and what’s going to happen; harrowing queries, as no one knows for sure. After taking a fall one morning, Lucky visits his doctor. Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) marvels at his good health despite all of his bad habits and the 90 years he’s got under his belt.
So what’s it all mean? What’s the significance behind a film about an old dude frittering away his afternoons wandering the desert? The subtext of the picture is something so enormously, profoundly identifiable in all of us. It is the lingering fret over the point of it all. Everyone works through it differently, but it is a hinderance to a happy life at times and can even spawn nihilism.
Lucky is a staggeringly thoughtful glance at a life, the lives it touches, and the doubtful, ubiquitous unease living behind courageous eyes. John Carroll Lynch’s first feature film is a sublime and wistful directing feat. It’s sentimental, sincere nature gives way for light-heartedness and whimsy in all the right places.
The cast of familiar faces brings it home in their earnest and loving portrayals of these characters that can’t possibly be too far removed from the actors themselves. The dynamic is organic and intimate and the viewer begins to feel part of it all; the ultimate theater-going experience. We even get to see Stanton and Tom Skerritt sharing the screen again for the first time since Alien (1979). Superb cinematography puts a bow on this masterpiece and leaves the audience awe-struck.
I was “Lucky” enough to screen this picture at the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago as part of the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks as well as Director John Carroll Lynch were in attendance and even participated in a Q&A. Everyone has such warm regard for this film and especially for Stanton. Sparks has been Stanton’s assistant for 15 years and shared a bit of his experience, telling us how this character, Lucky, is essentially who Stanton is.
Never have I so closely related to a character in a film. That’s a transcendent feeling to have and a rarity in movies.
Lucky comes out this Fall and I implore you to see it. I will see it with you. It is lovable and wise and works expertly on every level from start to finish. It stays with you.
the attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.