Over the past couple of years we’ve seen the advent of the subgenre where aging movie stars play characters that come to terms with their own mortality in films like The Last Word and The Hero. The directorial debut of veteran character actor John Carol Lynch, Lucky, features the legendary Harry Dean Stanton in a leading role. But this film doesn’t fit into that subgenre of aging stars accepting their impending fate. There’s no plucky youth with whom our aged star imparts his wisdom. No disease that forces these moments of introspection. Instead this is the story of a life of routine where the people that populate this southwestern town are full of kindness and empathy. Lucky may be a movie devoid of intense conflict but it’s the warmth that the film exudes in all of its characters that make it a wonderful little movie.
Lucky (Stanton) is a 90-year-old living in a dusty southwestern town. He starts his day with a cigarette, a stop at his local diner for a bite, and concludes his evening with a drink at the local bar. Despite his advancing age and smoking habit, Lucky is in fine health much to the amazement of his doctor. At the diner, he chats with owner Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and sometimes inquires the staff to provide him with help for his crossword puzzles. At the bar, he chats with his friend Howard (David Lynch), who is having a bit of an existential crisis following the disappearance of his pet turtle President Roosevelt. There’s almost a demand from the people in Lucky’s life that he makes some kind of profound changes to his life or begin looking deeply into his past for some kind introspective revelation. However, Lucky just lives up to his name, wandering and surviving in the world.
John Carol Lynch has assembled quite the impressive cast to work with Harry Dean Stanton, including appearances by Ed Begley, Jr., Ron Livingston, Tom Skerrit, and even old crooner James Darren. All of these characters treat Stanton’s Lucky with kindness, though Darren’s Paulie can be rather abrasive in the bar. What stands out about Lucky to me is the fact that there’s so much empathy and understanding in these characters, a refreshing look at the better side of humanity without the need to bring much attention to this fact.
As those who’ve watched the most recent season of Twin Peaks know, Harry Dean Stanton is capable of stirring emotions with his withered visage and raspy voice as he sings a song. He has such a moment in Lucky, one that maybe played some kind of influence in David Lynch employing Stanton to have such a similar moment in his astounding television opus. As an actor, John Carol Lynch has always been able to exude a certain warmth that few are capable of matching. As a director, John Carol Lynch brings that same touch to his debut and give Harry Dean Stanton his first leading role since Paris, Texas. Lucky is modest little movie avoids the trappings that have befallen somewhat similar films, and carries itself with a kind heart that is all too rare in art these days.