Directed by John Carroll Lynch
At dawn, with a mountainous, arid landscape as a background, a slow turtle crosses a dusty road adorned with a single green cactus. This is where everything begins in “Lucky”, an illuminated drama by veteran actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch. With an acting career spanning 30 years, the debutant director, who worked with Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers, and David Fincher, showed to have sufficient know-how to make things work. Curiously, the script was written by another two actors, Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, and no one could have been embodied the title character with such mastery as Harry Dean Stanton, who delivered his best performance since “Paris Texas”. Sadly, the proficient actor died two weeks prior to the release of this film, at the age 91.
Another novelty is to see Stanton acting alongside the one-and-only David Lynch, the same who had hired him a few years ago for dark mystery films like “Twin Peaks” and “Inland Empire”, as well as the poignant drama “The Straight Story”, whose mood and pace seem to have been a natural influence here.
90-year-old Lucky, a war veteran and crossword aficionado, lives solo and takes pleasure in learning the meaning of words. Following the same daily routines for years, the first thing he does in the morning is to smoke a cigarette. After that, he bathes, does five yoga exercises, drinks a glass of milk, and gets dressed to go out. He heads to Joe’s, a diner where he is expected by the friendly staff, and then goes to buy cigarettes at a grocery store owned by Bibi (Bertila Damas), who, knowing his love for mariachi music, invites him to her son’s birthday party. And what a perfect occasion for him to shine artistically!
Later on, Lucky necessarily stops at Elaine’s, a small and cozy local bar where he drinks his Bloody Mary and catches up with longtime friends, including Howard (David Lynch), who got overwhelmed lately by the disappearance of his adorable turtle named President Roosevelt. He utters an emotional speech about his terrible loss. When at this bar, Lucky gets philosophical, discoursing effusively about the theory of the void, yet, he hardly complies with the rules as he always attempts to light a cigarette in the premises. He feels so alive that he even picks a fight with Howard’s attorney. However, what Lucky doesn’t show is that he became scared of dying after fainting down for no apparent reason. His health is exceptionally good for his age, says the doctor, but the incident made him seriously conscious of the idea.
Everyone in town is fond of this aging man and his absence is immediately noted when he doesn’t show up in time to the regular places he attends. That’s why Joe’s friendly waitress, Loretta (Yvonne Huff), pays him a visit, appeasing his anxiety and fear with a joint. During a brief conversation with a stranger named Fred (Tom Skerritt), also a World War II vet, he will see some light at the end of the tunnel, finding his own way to deal with the tribulation that keeps saddening him.
With mortality as its thematic center, "Lucky" strangely feels like a light poem, eschewing sentimental baits but rather relying on the integrity of an encouraging story that also feels charming, positive, and hopeful. You will find plenty of human warmth in this odd spiritual journey that is also Stanton’s memorable final work. I hope he had departed with the same smile advocated at the end of this estimable film.