Editor’s Note: Steve Prokopy spoke with filmmaker John Carroll Lynch about the making of Lucky and working with Harry Dean Stanton. Read that interview here.
You shouldn’t go see Lucky, featuring the final starring role from the wonderful Harry Dean Stanton, just because Stanton died not long ago. You should go because it’s a wonderful, fundamentally life-affirming film that honors much of what made Stanton so unique both as a person and an actor.
If you caught him in the handful of “Twin Peaks” episodes that he appeared in recently, under the direction of his long-time friend David Lynch, then you know that with just a look or a casual gesture, Stanton can evoke pathos and humanity in a way few actors of any generation could. And within Lucky, just by looking at his ancient hangdog face, we are able to project our fears about getting old, being alone, and maintaining friendships as those in our age group begin to die off.
Directed by the consummate character actor (and first-time filmmaker) John Carroll Lynch and written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, Lucky is the story of a 90-year-old atheist living on the outskirts of a town that probably isn’t on the map anyway. His isolation seems deliberate, but he finds ways to interact with people during the course of his daily routine, which includes a light workout in the morning (complete with the day’s first of many cigarettes), a walking tour of the town (complete with seemingly random outbursts at various points), a stop in his favorite diner, and ending the night at Elaine’s, a local bar.
He’s usually polite to both those he sees every day and those whose path he crosses whom he doesn’t know, but using the word “friends” for any of these encounters seems out of his reach, with the exception of his talks with his pal Howard, played by (you guessed it) David Lynch in a genuinely moving performance.
One morning, Lucky collapses during his workout, leading to a disruption in his routine that triggers a series of events that might never have occurred if his routine had gone uninterrupted. As a result, he receives a sliver of enlightenment into those around him, discovering that when he didn’t show up to his usual spots that day, people noticed and worried about him.
He visits his long-time doctor (Ed Begley Jr.), who informs Lucky that he is in fact old—in great physical shape for his age, sure, but also past his prime, and he could drop dead at any time for no real reason. It sounds depressing but it’s actually quite funny, and this news inspires Lucky to look around at his life from a new, slightly askew perspective. I’m not even sure director John Carroll Lynch meant for Lucky to be full-on inspirational, but in many unexpected ways, that’s exactly the end result.
The film features a few nice turns and drop-ins by the likes of Ron Livingston, Beth Grant, and Stanton’s old Alien co-star Tom Skerritt, but it’s the unfamiliar faces that really capture the spirit of connection that becomes the dominant theme of Lucky. What starts off as a testament to the awesome aura of Stanton now serves as a fitting tribute and farewell to the late, great actor who was capable of so much as a performer.
Lynch’s direction doesn’t get in the way of Stanton’s work, instead serving as a place for him to show audiences all that he was capable of, including making us laugh, cry and want to know him better. But it was an elusive quality that gave Stanton so much power and presence. Lucky’s greatest achievement is to serve as a reminder of Stanton as a quiet but devastating force of nature.
The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.