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Lucky (2017) starring Harry Dean Stanton and David Lynch

Lucky to be alive

Harry Dean Stanton plays the titular Lucky - an elderly US Navy veteran living in a small, dusty desert town not too far north of the Mexican border. His rather sedate daily routine consists of his morning exercises, followed by coffee and a crossword at the diner run by Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley), a visit to the local store staffed by the latino Bibi (Bertila Damas), and some Bloody Mary-soaked heated arguments with his less elderly (but still undeniably clocking the years) buddies at the local bar.

One day, shortly after he gets up, he stares transfixed at the flashing red digits on his broken coffee percolator before suddenly passing out on the kitchen floor. After he comes around, he pays a visit to his doctor (played by Ed Begley Jr.), who comes to the conclusion that there’s nothing physically wrong with him other than the obvious: his old age finally catching up with him.

What follows is a personal quest to come to terms with the mortality afflicting himself and, indeed, every one of us.

Watch a trailer:

An American screen icon

It was a sad day when grizzled veteran American character actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away, at the age of 91, in September 2017. Lucky was one of the last two films which he made before his death, the other being Frank and Ava (which, according to IMDB, is still in post-production). I’m sure he was all too aware that his days were very much numbered when he decided to appear in this one; there’s a rare quality to his performance here that is, at once, wearily resigned yet simultaneously full of a “fuck you” attitude towards any obstacles that might prevent him making the most of it.

The film presents itself as a detailed final snapshot of a fine, distinctive performer, here displayed in all of his shamelessly leathery glory (as seen, in close-up, in the bathroom mirror during each morning of the story’s day-to-day structure). Its rhythm is slow - not to the point of tedium mind you, but to the point of a kind of sympathetic savouring of the landscapes and people around its central character as his time on this earth slowly winds down. While there’s the inevitable tincture of sadness here, it’s not a depressing film by any means; it’s a charming and often surprisingly funny celebration of the inherent preciousness of life.

Lucky himself is something of a typical old guy, i.e. a bit of a grumpy, cynical know-it-all. At the same time, however, he’s a well-rounded human being who genuinely manages to catch both the viewer and the characters around him off guard at times. Whether he’s ill-advisedly attempting to start a bar fight with fresh-faced life insurance salesman Bobby (Ron Livingston), adopting pet crickets or unexpectedly bursting into a Spanish song at a Mexican family’s birthday party, there are numerous moments which tentatively explore new facets of his character and touchingly hint at the true richness of the life which he is close to leaving behind.

David Lynch and Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky

While Stanton’s the star here, the supporting cast also contribute their share of memorable moments to the film. David Lynch provides some eccentric laughs as Lucky’s drinking buddy Howard, who is obsessed with his escaped 100-year-old tortoise named President Roosevelt. Tom Skerritt (who starred alongside Stanton in Alien) also pops up in a memorable cameo as a fellow ex-Naval serviceman who reveals a heartbreaking incident from his past.

Admittedly, some of Lucky’s individual moments and recurring day-to-day motifs feel a bit too much like quirkiness for the sake of it. For one thing, why doesn’t he get that damn coffee percolator fixed instead of simply staring at the digits for a few seconds each morning? At the same time, however, there’s more than enough in the way of weather-beaten, hangdog charm and touching musings on human mortality to make it easy to overlook these minor concerns.

Runtime: 88 mins

Dir: John Carroll Lynch

Script: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja

Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Barry Shabaka Henley, James Darren, Beth Grant, Yvonne Huff, Hugo Armstrong, Bertila Damas

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

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