Marking the directorial debut of prolific actor John Carroll Lynch, Lucky features the last performance of the legendary Harry Dean Stanton, in a film which is a meditation on mortality and is as much about Stanton himself as it is about the eponymous character he plays. Moving entirely at its own measured pace, the film explores themes of mortality, routine, friendship, impermanence, love, loss, regret and hope. Laid back and tender, graceful and sedate, Lucky presents individual vignettes that add up to very much more than the sum of their parts.
Dir: John Carroll Lynch, USA, 88 mins, 2017.
In John Carroll Lynch’s coolly unflustered directorial debut, with screenplay by Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks, the humble gestures are writ large. The routines of a man living alone in a small desert town, and his interactions with the world around him, are put under a microscope, and what could easily be seen as negligible burgeons into a wilderness bloom of late-life calm absurdity.
Such is the tone of Lucky – deadpan absurdity, everyday madness and enlightenment through routine merge in an attempt to answer the big questions of life. Played by Harry Dean Stanton with his own legendary dead-pan panache, the eponymous, chain-smoking Lucky is told by his doctor (Ed Begley Jr.), after an earlier sudden collapse, that he is fit as a fiddle and a medical mystery – his lungs are great and, if he quits smoking now, it would probably do him more harm than good. “The older you get, the longer you live,” they joke.
Light notes and heavy recollections flow into each other. The sad silence of a mockingbird, how impressive it is that Liberace could play with all those rings on his fingers (commented on by Yvonne Huff’s Loretta), thoughts about “before you were born”, a large-scale cricket rescue, or swapping war stories in the Pacific with a stranger in the diner (Tom Skerritt) – all are treated with equal weight. Everybody exists in an individual bubble of reference and reminiscence, as clothes and body posture and tone of voice reveal.
Carroll Lynch as director is fond of interactions that take place in a setting with a counter, be it a store or a place that serves drinks. As an actor, he played a memorable barkeeper in Hampton Fancher’s overlooked gem The Minus Man (1999), where he is confronted with an unconventional customer (Owen Wilson) and gives fresh, menacing context to what it means to protect and to serve. The bar in Lucky shares some of that aura.
The film won seven awards in 2017 and 2018, including Harry Dean Stanton for Best Actor (twice), John Carroll Lynch for Best First Feature (twice), Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja for Outstanding Screenplay and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2017 Locarno Film Festival for Best Picture.
“It’s the humblest deep movie of recent years […] with its own rhythm and colour, its own emotional temperature, its own reasons for revealing and concealing things” – Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com
A daring and engaging study of a man with an existential question who doesn’t like the answers he is getting. What a wonderful scene when he joins the fiesta and breaks into song in Spanish!
Brilliant and haunting – but a bit too close for comfort!
Touching and naturalistic look at old age, small town America, friendship and ownership, plus HDS sings – what more could you want?
A lovely, nuanced look at old age and the eccentric denizens of small town America. And a perfect swansong for HDS – literally so, with his rendition of a Spanish song at the fiesta.
Not what I expected!