Luckily, Harry Dean Stanton decided to star in ‘Lucky’
Directed by: John Carroll Lynch
Written by: Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Yvonne Huff, Beth Grant, and James Darren
“Lucky” – “I’m a late bloomer. It’s just a matter of how you evolve, of what your pace is. Hopefully, the older you get, the more you grow. So, that’s been my speed.” – Harry Dean Stanton
Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) walks everywhere throughout his modest, Southwestern town. He practices yoga every morning, but he also smokes every day. During a doctor’s visit, the good physician (Ed Begley Jr.) happily reports that Lucky’s blood pressure is a fit 115/70, and he appears perfectly healthy. Lucky is 90 years old. Lucky is lucky.
After a few minutes of observing this aging, steadfast protagonist during first-time director John Carroll Lynch’s film, one quickly realizes that Lucky lives life by his own rules and rituals, and has done so for decades…and decades. He embraces a simple existence, which consists of the previously mentioned, methodical activities, but please include his regular television programs, trips to his favorite bar and diner as necessary servings of his daily pursuits.
Although Lucky can name everyone in town and mentally considers them as - at least - distant acquaintances, he values his solitude, and Lynch gently introduces a quiet setting in a sleepy, little town - nestled among saguaros and rocky buttes - that matches his individual isolation.
Chiefly, the film is a character study about Lucky, and it is nicely arranged around him. Admittedly, a couple moments - like one particular group discussion in a pub - feel forced and do not quite work, but the vast majority do click. In many respects, the screenplay introduces designed scenes for recognized stars – like Begley Jr., Ron Livingston and director David Lynch (who is very memorable as an eccentric local worried about his missing pet) – who enter the picture and interact with Lucky, but really, these moments translate into golden opportunities for these actors to simply converse with Mr. Stanton. Golden opportunities for the audience as well.
“Anybody can be an actor, if you have a good director. Tell them to be themselves, and they’ll be brilliant.” - Harry Dean Stanton
In many ways, Stanton and Lucky are the same person.
They both never married.
They don’t have kids, or as Lucky says, “None that I am totally sure of.”
They also both served as cooks in the United States Navy during World War II, and while Lucky reminisces about the past and contemplates the future during the film’s 88-minute runtime, one distinctly feels like Stanton is offering his own words of wisdom and baring his soul. Now, did Stanton practice yoga every morning to start his day? Who is to say, although Lucky’s downward dog form would earn high praise from a yoga instructor worth his or her salt.
On a more serious note, when Lucky reveals a secret to his friend, Loretta (Yvonne Huff), one might hear a theatre audience hold its collective breath, because it feels like Stanton is speaking his deepest thoughts as well.
Harry Dean Stanton died on Sept. 15, 2017 in Los Angeles at the age of 91, but before he left, this man - who felt perfectly comfortable accepting dozens and dozens of small roles – resonates with a soulful, matter-of-fact and purposely caustic leading performance.
Lucky is a mixture of quiet pleasantries and sudden, gruff responses with his experiences ranging from enjoying small creature comforts to burying traces of regret that have slowly etched deeper lines across his face during the second half of the 20th century and 17 years into the 21st. Although the film does not reveal the mysteries of life, it offers insight into a character who – for years - probably never gave death a second thought. He has been too busy drinking coffee while sitting on his favorite diner seat, trekking to the convenience store to pick up cigarettes and milk and conversing with the locals over a beer or two. Now, Lucky is now facing the last few years of his life and attempting to wrap his head around what it all meant. It might result with him lashing out or warmly embracing the moment or both, but no matter which route he chooses, there is an awfully good chance that you’ll feel lucky that Harry Dean Stanton decided to star in “Lucky”.
“You get older. In the end, you end up accepting everything in your life: suffering, horror, love, loss, hate, all of it. There’s no answer to it. Ultimately, it’s just what it is.” - Harry Dean Stanton
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.