One of the heartwarming highlights of this year’s VIFF, Harry Dean Stanton’s final lead role came with an added layer of accidental emotion, due to the death of the beloved cult star only a few weeks earlier. Signing off with the startlingly cynical, yet-oh-so-likable titular character of Lucky, in fellow longstanding film and television actor John Carroll Lynch’s directorial debut, Stanton’s performance conveys the sort of natural reflection and beautiful frailty so often absent from Hollywood’s desperately glossy depiction of itself, and those who dwell within.
A study of creeping old age and the accompanying, ever-thinning line between life and death in a world that inevitably changes no matter how slow and safe your environment, Lucky is Lynch and Stanton’s ode to being born again into a realm of contemplation made up of equal parts liberation and melancholy. It is a time and place the majority of us whippersnappers thankfully cannot even begin to comprehend, and as such viewing it with the usual VIFF old timers (hopefully I’ll see them all next year) made for an all-the-more poignant experience.
With the world around him framed in the vein of a western, Lucky quickly establishes himself as the local anti-hero; stalking the dusty desert roads complete with hat, boots (and sometimes little else), and an ever-present cigarette hanging from his lips. He wakes up, stretches, goes for coffee at the same local diner, tops up his smokes at the same local convenience store, and drinks in the same local saloon. Despite being bizarrely healthy for a chain-smoking man his age, a fall provides Lucky with a gradual, sharply humorous, and wisely altogether low-key realisation that life is, er, short.
Sprawling monologues, both bluntly philosophical and philosophically blunt, give the picture that classic love/hate (here it is certainly the former) festival atmosphere. While Stanton dominates with tired ease, no doubt aided by the incorporation of biographical elements, such as his naval service during World War Two, the amusing support led by a hapless and tortoise-less David Lynch, and featuring a range of familiar cameos and character players, more than does its bit to aid and abet Lucky’s escapades.
As his fellow desert town-dwellers and, of course, we the audience, bask warmly in his ever-so-slightly increased, yet crucially more upbeat brand of I-do-not-give-a-fuck-ery following his fall, the late Stanton’s Lucky fittingly cements his place as the cinematic grandfather to everyone and no-one.
Have you seen Lucky? What did you think? Let us know.