There is no doubt that the death of Harry Dean Stanton earlier this year has provided Lucky with the momentum to secure a cinematic release wider than what might have otherwise been likely. Whilst Stanton has amassed more than 200 acting credits since his screen debut in 1954, it was his roles in ‘80’s classics Repo Man and Paris, Texas that earned him an almost cult-like reverence amongst film buffs the world over. It is perhaps somewhat strange therefore that, despite working constantly since, Stanton had, until now, been unable to secure another leading role, confined largely to character pieces and supporting roles that are often more memorable than anything else the film or television show has to offer. So, if nothing else, Lucky will be remembered for the fact that it afforded Stanton another opportunity to take centre stage, albeit at 90 years of age in what has ultimately proved to be his penultimate performance. In Lucky, Stanton is very much at the forefront of the action as the titular character, although action is perhaps a poor choice of words given that very little happens during the course of 90 minutes.
Lucky is a US Navy veteran who lives on the outskirts of a small town in America’s south, most likely Arizona given the desert landscape that Lucky traverses each day as part of his daily routine, the elements of which drive the narrative. After beginning each day with yoga and a glass of milk, Lucky sets off into town where he adheres to a regimented sequence of interactions. Although brusque and impatient, the straight-talking Lucky is liked well enough by the people he encounters in the coffee shop, bar and convenience store that he visits each day before returning home to spend his afternoons entrenched in television games shows and crossword puzzles. First-time director John Carroll Lynch, who has a slew of acting credits in film and television, has roped in a treasure trove of actors to spar with Stanton. Ed Begley Jnr, Tom Skerritt, Ron Livingston and David Lynch are amongst those who feature in a series of scenes that play out more as a collection of individual sketches more so than as part of a cohesive, connected series of events.
Whilst there is plenty of quirk on offer here – Lucky watering his cactus wearing only his saggy underwear and cowboy boots for example – the lack of narrative tension will prove infuriating for some. We only get glimpses of the various relationships that Lucky enjoys with both the townsfolk and those merely passing through and just when it seems as though something more substantial be might be forthcoming, such as when Loretta (Yvonne Huff) visits Lucky and it seems a friendship is born, nothing comes of it and we move onto the next vignette. As such, some of the scenes don’t present as particularly authentic and the interactions in the bar are perhaps the least convincing. Conversely, the interactions between Lucky and shopkeeper Bibi (Bertila Damas) are wonderfully warm and result in one of the best moments of the film when Lucky attends a birthday fiesta for Bibi’s son.
Ostensibly a film about the waning of life, it is certainly not morose and, in fact, the message seems to be that the inevitability of death shouldn’t be something that dictates how we think and behave. Devoid of the demonisation that typically pervades cinematic renderings of those who inhabit America’s more remote communities, Lucky captures a small slice of life in a part of America that is a far cry from the hustle, bustle and bluster of the big city. Whilst calls for Stanton to be recognised for this performance in awards season might be more to do with sentimentality and affection than the performance itself, it is not hard to admire his commitment to the role. Despite its failings, Lucky is an enjoyable exploration of mortality in which the central character is often alone, yet is never presented as somebody for whom we should feel sorry or as a threat to themselves or others, which is quite refreshing.