Lucky – Film Review by Aisling Foster
Directed by John Carroll Lynch
Writers: Logan Sparks (screenplay), Drago Sumonja (screenplay)
Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston
Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t need to act Lucky, he just IS. From every deeply scored line on his face to the beat up cowboy boots, Stanton plays an independent-minded old bachelor as wind dried and forgotten as the desert town where he lives, a place where boarded-up shops and tumbleweed streets are all that is left of the old west of long ago.
Stanton died, aged 91, just before the film was released. To watch him totter through Lucky’s highly structured days, from morning aerobics and a first cigarette to nights spent verbally sparring at his local bar is amusing enough, but as each day follows night, the repetition of habit and ritual raises more existential questions about life and death. Indeed, halfway through the film, I wondered if Lucky was already dead, caught in a kind of repetitive Limbo until judgement was complete.
If that sounds heavy, it is not. On one level, the film feels light as air – light on plot and character – presenting a surreal America where everyone seems to rub along just fine, white and black, as well as with a mix of angelic Hispanics, mostly female, whose energy provides enough good cheer to keep the dying old town just about extant. Walking its eerily empty streets, Lucky confronts every person he meets with his own rock-like presence, zapping sentiment and religious certainty with a single look or facing down double talk with an insistence on old fashioned truth.
Exactly who or what Lucky once was is never explained. Perhaps, at such an advanced age, the past is a forgotten country. Indeed, despite the film’s distinguished line up of talent in rather set piece cameos, from Ed Begley and Tom Skerritt to Beth Grant and David Lynch, nobody ever really tells it like it is. All we know is that Lucky is alone and at odds with them all. Only once, when an old stranger appears in his local coffee shop, Lucky opens up to share stories of his own US Navy service in the Korean war. Watching the old grump grow suddenly animated one wonders if that scene was unscripted, allowing Harry Dean Stanton free rein to describe his own part in that highly questionable conflict.
Yet there is not dispute, no politics. Someone says: “The truth is, it’s all going to go away – and nobody’s in charge.” Everywhere, sweetness prevails, even amongst Lucky’s night time drinking companions whose smooth looks and accents must surely locate them at the very heart of Trump’s America. They, too, are old and will die. In fact, by the end of the film it is clear the only survivor in that gallery of good ‘ole buddiess will be a 100 year old pet tortoise (named President Roosevelt – significant or what?) whose escape to the wilderness at the end of the movie offers the possibility of a hundred more very slow years.
Meanwhile back in the real, nuclear button world, this film may divide audience opinion into those who think old people remain true to themselves – as nice or nasty as ever they were –– and those who believe in the fake apple pie type – saccharine sweet to the end. Just like the USA today, both types are represented here. Only time will tell.