Lucky opens with Harry Dean Stanton as the title character waking up and doing his normal routine. He cleans himself, does his exercises, puts on his clothes, and he walks out the door, which is lit up so bright it’s like he was walking into the light. Having seen the film at a screening on the very day that we lost the legendary actor, this opening set a rather interesting, and haunting mood onto an already somber crowd. Lucky is basically the kind of film that’s practically engineered to be the one that will bow out a career as prolific and as iconic as Harry’s. The character of Lucky is as close we can get to Harry essentially playing himself, and the wisdom he often spouts wouldn’t seem out of place in any one of those amazing interviews where he seems to be in total I-don’t-give-a-fuck mode.
As for what the film actually is, it’s about a lonely old guy named Lucky, who has been running on autopilot for a very long time. We see the various people and places that he frequents like the convenience store where he grabs his milk, the diner where he has his coffee and works on the crossword puzzle in his daily paper, or the bar where he banters with the regulars, including an old friend, Howard, played by David Lynch (who totally kills it, by the way). It’s not a sprawling epic, it’s instead a very quiet and gentle mood piece where Lucky faces his mortality and makes peace with his place in the world through the small moments of connection between him and the people around him.
The film is also an unabashed love letter to Harry Dean Stanton, the camera worships his every word and step. It didn’t surprise me when I learned that one of the co-writers, Logan Sparks (who wrote it with Drago Sumonja), was Harry’s assistant for the last seventeen years. However, it’s not any kind of mythmaking, Lucky is as imperfect and fragile as any of us, and the camera certainly doesn’t shy away from giving us a first hand view of some of the unpleasantries that come with old age. And I imagine the echos to some of his earlier works like Paris, Texas and the casting his Alien co-star, Tom Skerritt, is no coincidence.
As a film that’s a love letter to one of the all-time great actors, it’s no shock that the performances – from the veterans to the fresh faces – are all great. And that’s in large part due to the direction brought by the equally great character actor, John Carroll Lynch, with this being his directorial debut. Aside from the landscapes, there isn’t a lot that will impress you visually, but it’s the way the camera captures the minuscule movements in the faces of the actors, and the subtle layers they all bring to each moment. It’s an understated film for the most part, but that doesn’t prevent moments from being powerful and even downright devastating at times. John’s direction reflects that and works to sue the camera to emphasize the performances more than anything else, especially with Harry.
There’s not much else to say, certainly not for the lack of meat on its bones, but in that the film is something where you really absorb the characters and the atmosphere and the ideas as you watch them. It’s not the kind of movie you have to dissect. It’s a small, intimate, and unassuming film that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and while it might not even be for everybody, if you are a fan of Harry Dean Stanton in any capacity, Lucky is an absolute must watch. It’s very much Harry’s swan song. It’s like getting one last hug from an old friend before saying goodbye. It’s rare that we see get to have a proper sendoff to the artists that we love so much, and in some cases, they may not even end on a good note, but Lucky gives the most pitch perfect way to experience the amazing Harry Dean Stanton doing what he does best to cap off the staggering legacy he leaves behind.