We open on a road out in the desert, watching a tortoise slowly make his way across. We cut to a house nearby, and we see some light a cigarette, puts on slippers and turn on the radio to some ‘Ranchero” music. The man washes his body with a washcloth, brushes his teeth and combs his hair.
The man (we still can’t see his face) comes into the living room, puts down his cigarette, and takes off his slippers, moves toward the center of the room and starts doing a series of simple exercises, all the while in his underwear. The man finishes his exercises, heads for the kitchen where he turns on the coffee maker with a clock that keeps flashing twelve then opens the refrigerator that is only filled with cartons of milk. He grabs a glass of milk that is inside his frig and drinks it. He fills the glass back up and puts the glass inside the refrigerator. He gets dressed putting on boots, an old hat and a green army jacket and heads out the door.
We finally get a look at Lucky’s (Harry Dean Stanton) as he stops to light a cigarette. Lucky looks to be in his late 80s and his well-weathered face looks it. Lucky heads down the road to town and ends up at a diner where a beaming cook/owner named Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) greats him with a ‘Hey Lucky!” Lucky replies “You’re nothing!” and the Joe replies with a smile “You’re nothing.” Lucky smiles at that remark and sits down at the counter, working on a crossword puzzle. Lucky attempts to light up a cigarette but is stopped by the Joe, telling him he can’t light up inside. As the diner moves through its morning crowd, Lucky stares at the crossword puzzle. Finally, Joe asks what he is stuck on, Joe answers and a woman nearby at the counter, who is playing solitaire, gives him the answer.
We see Joe as he walks down the streets of the town, stopping to yell a profanity at a business. Lucky goes into a small convenience store, gets a carton of milk and asks about the woman behind the counter, Bibi (Bertila Damas), about her son. It is oblivious that Lucky is set into a routine and is well liked by the townspeople as he heads back home. Lucky is again in his underwear, watching a game show and still working on his crossword puzzle. He suddenly picks up the phone, dials a number and without saying hello he asks “Is realism a thing?” He hears the caller say something, then gets up and walks over to a massive dictionary sitting on a podium, looking up the word. He reads the definitions of “realism” out loud so the person on the phone can hear. Lucky comes back over to the phone without picking it up and talks about realism, then turns the sound back on the TV, predicting the person playing will lose, which she does. He hangs up the phone, telling the person on the other end goodbye. We see Lucky going into his nightly local waterhole, where the bar’s owner, Elaine (Beth Grant) is regaling her patrons with a story. Lucky and Elaine’s husband, Paul (James Darren) get into conversations about realism and whether or not you have a soul. The next day, Lucky starts his routine, but when he gets to the coffee pot, he stares at the flashing twelve of the coffee maker’s clock and then falls over. Lucky’s fall will have him realize that he just might be at the end of the road and that he needs to reevaluate his life and beliefs.
Director John Carroll Lynch brings us a magical tale about a man faced with his own mortality questioning his place in the world and the impact he made. The film is filled with beautiful quiet moments that let the characters give us their full personality, even if the scene is short. Lynch enables the scenes to flow by naturally, as the camera is positioned where we as the audience are part of the gang of friends whom Lucky hangs out with, imparting his unique wisdom to anybody that will listen. Lynch treats Lucky with a loving touch, letting us take in every line in his 90-year-old face that has seen so much life. Credit screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja on writing a film that never feels rushed but also doesn’t drag, making the film feel much shorter than its hour and a half run time. The dialogue feels natural and flows with ease, as the film lets us explore the relationships that exist in this small town, where everyone knows all aspects of each other’s lives.
The film is a joy to watch and is helped by the cast which has tremendous performances sometimes in scenes that last just a few minutes. David Lynch is hilarious as Howard, a friend of Lucky’s whose best friend is a 100-year-old tortoise named Mr. Roosevelt, who has run away. Howard is convinced the Mr. Roosevelt planned his escape because it happened so quickly. Ed Begley Jr. plays Lucky’s doctor, a man who is amazed that Lucky has lived this long. Begley is given the task of having to tell Stanton’s character that it just might be Lucky’s time because no one lives forever. The scene is moving, and the two actors play off each other incredibly well. Beth Grant plays the tough as nail’s bar owner Elaine, and James Darren plays her longtime husband, Paulie. I love the interaction between Darren and Grant, as Elaine knows she’s fortunate that she has someone who will put up with her unconditionally and Paulie, the former ladies’ man is grateful that she saw something in him other than just another customer. There is a marvelous scene where Tom Skerritt, playing an old marine, talks to Lucky, a retired sailor, about life in the military during WW II. Their almost instant bonding is a thing to watch as both actors masterfully play the scene; two elderly war vets telling their experiences without saying too much because both men have seen the horrors of war.
Of course, the real reason to see this film is the performance of Harry Dean Stanton. It’s fitting that Lucky is one of the last characters in a long list of films and TV work that the late Stanton performed since the 50s. For all intents and purposes, Stanton is Lucky, as both the character and the actor had lived a long life and experienced it all. You see the years on Stanton in the small, thin frame, the lines on his weathered face, but you also see in his performance, the kindness and the energy that Stanton put in every performance he did. Stanton plays Lucky as a man who has loved his life and has to decide if he can come to terms with his eventual death. My favorite part of the film which sums up Harry Dean Stanton’s performance is where Lucky has been invited to a kid’s birthday party by the owner of the small convenience store that Lucky buys his milk and cigarettes. Everyone at the party is Hispanic with a piñata and a mariachi band. After the whole crowd sings a traditional happy birthday song in Spanish, Lucky stands up and starts to sing a “canción ranchera” song that the shocked mariachis join in to accompany him. It’s a powerful moment in the movie, and Stanton gives the song his all as his singing is full of life and passion, delighting the party goers. It’s a tender and warm moment that just might bring a few tears to your eyes.
Lucky is a beautiful ode to a man who made the world a better place. Is too bad there won’t be more films with Harry Dean Stanton in them, but he couldn’t have chosen a better swan song to go out on. We all feel lucky that Stanton could join us for one last walk to his town. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
The film is playing in Atlanta exclusively at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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