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Review: LUCKY (2017) 'Harry Dean Stanton makes a graceful exit with one last memorable role'

In FLIX!

Joseph Friar

By Joseph Friar
Oct. 11, 2017 at 1:43 p.m.



Review: LUCKY (2017)

Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Yvonne Huff Lee, Hugo Armstrong, Bertila Damas

Directed by John Carroll Lynch 

Prolific actor Harry Dean Stanton passed away in September after appearing in over 100 films.  He left us with an incredible body of work including one last film to cherish, “Lucky.”  Actor John Carroll Lynch makes his directorial debut with the story about a 91-year old atheist named Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) who faces the realization that time is running out.  Stanton’s swan song is a gem as the actor delivers a beautiful performance supported by a great cast that includes director David Lynch, wonderful character actor Beth Grant, and a memorable cameo by Tom Skerritt.   It’s a graceful exit by Stanton who proved that he could still carry a film at the age of 90.  We, the moviegoers, are indeed the lucky ones.  

Many of Lucky’s characteristics are based on Stanton’s real life including his love for Mariachi music as the actor performs the song “Volver, Volver” in a heartwarming scene that takes place at a birthday fiesta.  There are wonderful moments just like that one interspersed throughout the film written by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, two writers who knew Stanton well enough to infuse the character with the veteran actor’s traits.  Sumonja directed the 2009 documentary “Char·ac·ter” which features Stanton discussing his craft among other actors that include Peter Falk and Charles Grodin, while Sparks worked as Stanton’s right hand man for over 15 years. 

“Lucky” is what I like to call an observational film.  There is no real plot to drive the film just vibrant characters to entertain us while we sit back and observe their lives, think Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” or Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”  If done right, these types of films are much more entertaining than the standard fare with plots and subplots because they rely solely on the actor’s performances to keep the audience engrossed.  

Lucky wouldn’t consider himself lonely even though the 91-year old veteran lives alone in a desert home.  He starts every morning with a strict routine that includes exercise, yoga, milk, and a cigarette.  Except for the milk, there is nothing in Lucky’s bare refrigerator and the cigarette is the first of what leads to a pack-per-day smoking habit.  He grabs his boots and cowboy hat and heads out the door to begin his daily walk through the desert into town where Lucky stops at the local diner run by Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley).  They greet each other with “you’re nothing!” and then Lucky proceeds to spend most of the afternoon working a crossword puzzle making it back home in time to catch his favorite game show.  

In the evening Lucky ventures back out to his favorite hole-in-the-wall to down a bloody mary while interacting with feisty bar owner Elaine (Beth Grant), her husband Paulie (veteran actor James Darren who you may remember as the teen idol Moondoggie in the 1959 film Gidget or from the 80’s television show T.J. Hooker), and the eccentric Howard (David Lynch) who is grieving the loss of his runaway pet tortoise President Roosevelt.  These colorful characters lead to some lively conversations in the memorable film.  

Ron Livingston from “Office Space” shows up as an insurance salesman named Bobby whom Lucky wants to engage in fisticuffs with after concluding that Bobby is trying to rip off his grieving friend Howard.  There is a great scene later in the film where Livingston delivers a touching monologue about how he became an insurance salesman while both he and Stanton ponder life.   Tom Skerritt makes a cameo as a Marine veteran who engages in conversation with Lucky, a Navy veteran, about the war while stopping by the diner for lunch.  It was great seeing Skerritt and Stanton reunite after they appeared together in the 1979 film “Alien.”  There is also a nice cameo by Ed Begley Jr. as Lucky’s shoot-from-the hip physician who informs his patient that there is nothing wrong with him, he’s just old.     

Watching Harry Dean Stanton roam around the desert in “Lucky” recalls his appearance in Wim Wenders 1984 film “Paris, Texas” which gave Stanton his first leading role.   And by the way, the harmonica playing “Red River Valley” in the background is Stanton who also contributed to the film’s soundtrack.    

There is a line in the 1984 film “Repo Man” where Stanton’s character says, “I'd rather die on my feet than live on my knees” and that he did.  Stanton gives us one last memorable performance at the age of 90 as a graceful exit to a wonderful career.  “Lucky” is a gem. 

(4 stars) 

Opens Friday 10/13 at the River Oaks Theater (Houston) and Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar (Austin)  

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