MOVIE REVIEW: Lucky
Official selection and Audience Award winner of the 5th annual Chicago Critics Film Festival
LUCKY-- 5 STARS
In each winsome second, Lucky continuously unearths affecting ways of making cantankerous endearing. With grizzled resolve and humor as dry as the desert he walks in, the late Harry Dean Stanton personifies the charm culled from the crotchety put on display in John Carroll Lynch’s straight-shooting film. Far from any Grumpy Old Men folly and possessing a hidden heart twice the size of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, meet a lovable unlovable asshole that flourishes to galvanize unexpected wholesomeness from the prickliest of cacti.
Stanton, in a lead performance written especially for him, plays the nicknamed title role, a World War II veteran north of 90 years old living in rural New Mexico. Never married and nonreligious, Lucky lives alone with his TV preferences and shelved knick-knacks of memories. Always adorned in snap-button western shirts, cowboy boots, a pack of American Spirits, and his great head of hair underneath a beat-up hat, he is a creature of routine. The film walks us through a few slices of Lucky’s present daily life and an epiphanic turning point.
From his morning calisthenics and diner crossword puzzle, Lucky treads about his small town with what seems like the lightest purpose of endurance. Selective with his words and his acquaintances, he ends his days with rumbling rants and barstool nightcaps with his off-kilter buddy Howard (filmmaker David Lynch) at a senior scene bar run by Elaine (character actress Beth Grant) and her fashionable husband Paulie (longtime TV staple James Darren). Lucky is thrown out of whack when he suffers a blackout and fall at home.
Diagnosed with repartee by his doctor (Ed Begley, Jr.) as as old with genetic good luck for a tough SOB who has smoked since his teens, Lucky seemingly realizes mortality for the first time in his life. His routine slows and changes. His nerves unravel with thoughts and memories springing forth. Irritable warts of character turn to reveal serenading and surprising weaknesses of soulful sentiment.
True to his unblemished Roger Ebert rule stature, Harry Dean Stanton composed a masterful performance with a dichotomy of range between gruff and ethereal. Starkly present in both the character and the actor himself, every wrinkle hides a layer, a story to be told, or a touchstone to an unseen memory. Stanton’s astonishing presence masks a palpable polish hiding under Lucky’s uncouth exterior. His pauses say everything, the reflection and the undefined pain, without saying a word. You cannot stare deep enough into his sullen eyes without being captivated by his plight.
Stanton’s contemporaries would overplay the commonsensical words and staged pacing cradled by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja’s rookie screenplay. “Old and slow” may be a label of speed, but the movie is not. There’s not a sour beat to be found in veteran actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut. The soft lens, slow zooms, over-the-shoulder close-ups from Little Miss Sunshine cinematographer Tim Suhrstedt push the dramedy tone just enough without gaudy flourish. Assembled with grace and grit, Lucky stands as one of the finest films of 2017.
The draw of Lucky is quaintly unyielding while still sauntering just like its title character. The journey’s brevity becomes a satisfying delight. No matter where you approach this film, it will be hard to wipe the smile off your face or rub the whiskers off your chin from noticing and arriving at complete respect for the experience.
LESSON #1: REALISM IS A THING WE EACH SEE DIFFERENTLY-- Name any townsperson from Lucky and then match them to someone equally quirky you know. There is crazy that isn’t crazy when seen from other points of view. For Lucky himself, you don’t have to know this culture, this world, and this regional creed to feel for this man (see Lesson #3 coming). When you walk in his boots, you come around from your irascible or boring first impressions.
LESSON #2: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LONELY AND ALONE-- Just as realism is different for everyone, so is solitude. For example, some people love small talk and others seek and operate within awkward silence instead. Nevertheless, our thoughts make sure we’re never really alone. Lucky starts with our man walking into frame alone and ends the same way. In between, you see and feel how and why he is a little bit of both lonely and alone while also neither one of those labels entirely.
LESSON #3: ACCEPTING MORTALITY-- Nothing is permanent and the biggest truth to be told is the finality of the human condition. No matter the level of your faith or depth of character, misgivings about your own ephemerality are inevitable feelings we all share. We would all be so “lucky” to reach our nineties to have that revelation.