Lucky, Harry Dean Stanton’s eponymous and semi-autobiographical anti-hero, is sitting in his pants, snarling at a game show contestant. But he might just as well be talking to himself. Because he is dying. Not in any immediate sense. Maybe not even that soon – although he is old. Not in any especially sad or newsworthy tragedy. Just in the way that all of us will eventually die.
The film that bears his name is a deeply intimate (nose hair and all) portrait of Lucky’s daily existence – one largely spent between his home (a diet of yoga and game shows), a local store, a dive bar and a diner. His US desert community is made up of old friend Howard (David Lynch) whose tortoise has made a daring bid for freedom, straight-talking doctor (Ed Begley Jr), diner staff Loretta (Yvonne Huff) and Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley), plus bar-matriarch and antagonist Elaine (Beth Grant). They both humour and help Lucky as he comes to terms with his own mortality.
Stanton’s last performance will surely go down as one of his best. On screen throughout, Lynch’s camera pokes and prods at every inch of his body, mind and soul. Yet the actor retains just enough mystery that it’s still a privilege when we’re allowed, via a flicker of the mouth, a grunt or a wide-eyed stare, a glimpse of the real Lucky. The character was written with Stanton in mind, and draws elements from his life. Lucky is defiant and recalcitrant, deeply cynical and as likely poised with a withering dismissal as with a cigarette, but there’s something else there too.
The late star’s swansong coincides poetically with John Carroll Lynch’s debut in the directing chair. The latter tells this story with grace, using music and repetition to pace the film beautifully. Cinematographically stunning, wide shots of endless desert stretching toward infinite possibility contrast with the close, invasive examinations of his ageing, limiting and mortal body.
If there’s a criticism, it’s that occasionally conversations awkwardly segue to hit the movie’s themes slightly too squarely on the nose. Maybe that simply reflects Lucky’s own preoccupations, but it pierces the realist mundanity crucial to the picture’s best moments.
Ultimately, Lucky is poignant, beautiful and funny – a fitting way to remember Stanton and a stunning way for a new director to begin his career in the presence, but not the shadow, of his namesake.
Lucky is released in select cinemas on 14th September 2018.
Watch the trailer for Lucky here: