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Film Review: Lucky

19 September 18 words: Natalie Mills

Harry Dean Stanton makes peace with getting old in this touching tale of acceptance and connection...

Director: John Carroll Lynch

Starring:Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston

Running time: 88 mins

If you’re looking for a film to comfort you in the shadow of encroaching old age, this is it. Harry Dean Stanton is Lucky; a cantankerous yet endearing 90-something who has somehow managed to evade death’s grasp. His character is our anchor in an exploration of ageing and the importance of human connection.

Nothing about this film feels rushed – it opens with long, beautiful shots of a tortoise strolling across the desert. We’re introduced to Lucky doing his daily yoga exercises and get charmed by his Do Not Go Gentle, no-bullshit attitude. His routine of cigarettes, crosswords and grumbling at the locals feels as regular as clockwork.  It is a gut-punch to Stanton fans, also a heavy smoker, who died aged 91 this year. He’s a fascinatingly frail old cowboy, patrolling the dusty streets. Lucky is grumpy, but the whole town seems fond of him.

Despite his age, Lucky is fiercely independent and sharp as a tack. The film treats us to his quirks, including phoning someone to ask, “Is realism a thing?” for his crossword. “So a guy picks a case and I've got to wait a fucking hour to see what's in it,” is his summary of Deal or No Deal. When a loud-suited regular at his local bar says, “Friendship is essential to the soul”, he replies that the soul doesn’t exist. These dimly lit conversations feel as otherworldly as a stage, and David Lynch does not disappoint in his weirdness.

When a dizzy spell – brought on by a Lynchian red light – causes Lucky to fall, he’s forced to feel his years. His doctor diagnoses that he’s simply “old and getting older”. As he kicks a can through the streets, you see the fear in his face. He knows death might tap him on the shoulder any second. And it’s heartbreaking. “Lucky fell down” rings out through his local cafe, and you’re as worried as they are. What follows is a gradual soul-searching acceptance. He calls someone (or no one) to tell them his saddest memory of killing a mockingbird. "The silence it cast on the world was devastating," he confesses painfully.

There’s no big crass epiphany, only a series of understated meaningful connections

Lucky is packed with meandering existential monologues, which people with no heart will find pretentious as hell. A highlight is Lynch’s momentous speech about the love he feels for his escaped pet tortoise, President Roosevelt. "You all think of a tortoise as something slow, but I think about the burden he has to carry on his back,” he exclaims. Director John Carroll Lynch is no relation, but the neon dream sequence of Lucky walking through a door/portal is more than a little Twin Peaks.

Seeing Stanton’s bony, nonagenarian frame huddled up under a thin blanket as Johnny Cash’s “I See A Darkness” plays is almost unbearable. You can feel the loneliness creeping in. In another night scene, the crickets he rescued from a pet shop (“Do you have any mockingbirds?”) chirp inside his home. For “one tough son of a bitch” he exudes a palpable sense of vulnerability.

Lucky for us, the film takes a beautifully uplifting turn. There’s no big crass epiphany, only a series of understated meaningful connections. Lucky’s touching encounter with his concerned friend Loretta is a blueprint for how to treat old, scared people. He’s invited to a Spanish birthday party, where he shines with an unexpected singing number. A chance meeting with a fellow WW2 veteran – Stanton was also in the Navy, alongside being similarly unmarried and childless – leads to them reminiscing about happy and tragic memories. He’s a joy to watch on the harmonica too.

Stanton’s character never heel-face turns and there’s no saccharine spiritual awakening; he just makes peace with the inevitable void. "I know the truth and the truth matters,” he says. What do you do when it’s all going to go away and nobody is in charge? You smile. Lucky is a fitting tribute to its star.

Did you know? Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja wrote the screenplay for Lucky specifically for Harry Dean Stanton. 

Lucky is showing at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 20 September

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