There’s really only one reason to see Lucky, and it’s Lucky, the name of the crusty old loner played by the late Harry Dean Stanton in one of his last roles. The movie is a character study — though “study” might be too strong a word. Maybe “observation” is better.
Living alone in a tiny house in a middle-of-nowhere desert town, Lucky gets up every morning, lights his first American Spirit of the day and practices five yoga stretches while listening to south-of-the-border music on his old radio. He doesn’t walk his dog, because he doesn’t have a dog, or a wife, or kids either. What he has is the small band of locals that serve as a kind of Greek chorus as he trudges through his days.
There’s Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley) and Loretta (Yvonne Huff), the kindly owner and waitress at the diner where Lucky goes to drink coffee. And Elaine (Beth Grant), the feisty owner of the local bar where Lucky goes for stronger beverages. Another regular there is Howard (David Lynch, who directed Stanton in many films), a fellow local eccentric who’s mourning the escape of his pet tortoise, President Roosevelt.
Yes, it’s that kind of movie — a quirky, small indie populated with “characters.” To their credit, screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja don’t push too far into the sort of overkill whimsy that plagues too many movies of this sort. Yet the writers aim for easy profundity a little too obviously, and with insufficient language; too much of what comes out of the characters’ mouths sounds scripted. (Lynch, for instance, has to deliver a groaner of a monologue about the burden of being a tortoise, contained all your life in the heavy shell which will eventually become your coffin.)
The “scriptiness” may not be helped by the actors’ first-time director, John Carroll Lynch. Best known as a character actor himself, like the bulk of his cast, he was Frances McDormand’s loving husband in Fargo, as well as a hideous clown in American Horror Story and the terrifying prime suspect in Zodiac. It feels as if he loves his fellow actors a little too much and lets them get away with some self-conscious and stagy moments.
All of them, that is, but that old cuss, Harry Dean Stanton. Think of some of the movies he’s been in: Alien, Repo Man, Wise Blood, Pretty in Pink, The Green Mile, Paris, Texas. Now try to find something that unites such diverse films. There’s not a lot, in terms of tone, theme or genre. But Stanton was in all of them, and in so many more.
I wish Lucky were a little better, but it’s good enough. When Stanton begins to sing, a cappella, the Mexican ballad “Volver, Volver” — a broken-hearted lament to return to the arms of a loved one — it’s hard not to feel your own heart break. The scene is transcendent.
In the movie’s last moments, Stanton looks directly into the camera . . . and smiles. Like some other things in Lucky, it’s an indulgence. But it’s one that feels earned as a farewell to those of us sitting in the dark, from someone who has always seemed like a long lost friend onscreen for more than 60 years.
Lucky. With Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Beth Grant, Ron Livingston, Tom Skerritt, Ed Begley Jr. Directed by John Carroll Lynch. Unrated. 88 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.