Lucky Review: Harry Dean Stanton’s Seemingly Knowing Goodbye

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Not unlike David Bowie’s Blackstar, the late Harry Dean Stanton’s introspective, meditative turn in John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky is the type of art an artist can only make very late in their career. It’s as if his death was planned throughout production. That’s a ridiculous assertion looking in from the outside, but while watching the film, this bleak yet tender goodbye feels purposeful, even if Stanton himself did not write it. This swan song isn’t perfect, but it’s very memorable, and a strong showcase of what the legendary character actor of Godfather Part II and Alien fame, to name some favorites, was capable.

Stanton plays the titular Lucky, an unmarried, childless, chain-smoking, yet seemingly immortal man living in a small desert town repeating the same routine day in day out. But this isn’t some uplifting indie flick where an elderly figure regains his lease on life. In an early scene, Lucky reads aloud the definition of “realism” while on the phone with an unknown figure who he occasionally calls for help on his daily crossword puzzle. Though pointed and obvious, what this statement of intent actually does is allow the surreal to peak in. Lucky gets to have a little bit of both, mixing a true-spirited look at the emotions running through our final years while allowing some visual freedom and outward play with seemingly elusive motifs (it’s actually very fitting, and even quite charming, that auteur David Lynch has a sizable role in the film).

And yet, at just under 90 minutes, the film still somehow crawls. While its themes are resonant, and Stanton is largely great in his final role, Lucky is often slow and a little on the nose. There is a moment, however, in the third act that so wonderfully assaults our emotions with a monologue from Stanton that shows the power and beauty of sheer simplicity. It’s just too bad that for much of its runtime, it’s unsure how to make these themes land, forcing repetition on us to build to this point while struggling to find significance in those individual moments. As a meditation on the end of life, Lucky would ring rote were it not for Stanton. But as a meditation on the purpose of our existence, or perhaps lack there of, it eventually finds emotional success. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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