Life rarely affords us the perfect end, of walking into the sunset and going out on a high. Actor John Carroll Lynch making his directorial debut gifts Harry Dean Stanton his perfect exit from this mortal coil and a lifetime in cinema. Lucky begins as a wry comedy before a stumble at home sends the titular Lucky on a spiritual journey exploring life, death, the humble tortoise and what we leave behind.
Lucky is one of the few characters in cinema that immediately feels recognisable to us, we can imagine the life he’s lived in this small outpost town in the desert. Lucky shares the traits of those father figures or grandparents that we have loved and lost. Lucky might have his moody moments, but he is a harmless old man, and one who at the age of 90, despite his pack a day cigarette addiction, is medically fighting fit and the grim reaper is nowhere to be seen.
We see Lucky wake up and begin his daily routine, of five different yoga exercises before heading into town to do his crossword puzzle in the local diner before returning home to watch some gameshows before a visit to the local bar to enjoy a bloody mary cocktail, or two. Lucky enjoys some patter with the locals in bars, diners and shops. Lucky has a sharp tongue and doesn’t suffer fools lightly, the locals smile away his pointed jabs when they land, this is just who Lucky is and in a small town, it is easiest to just all get along and accept each other, the best you can.
Lucky is masterfully brought to life by Harry Dean Stanton and it is impossible not to marvel as he fills this movie with a buzz of energy that keeps this small town running. Stanton’s face and body tell the story of a life lived, and you find yourself charting the experiences, sadness and life that is etched onto his face. The camera quietly follows Lucky through the town and the gentle breeze of the story unfolds you allows you to reflect on your own journey, absent friends and perhaps, the meaning of life.
Lucky has lived his life and fully and there are several moments that reveal life shaping moments. At a birthday fiesta for a young Mexican boy, Lucky bursts into a surprise rendition of Vincente Fernandez’s ‘Volver, Volver’ in Spanish, without skipping a beat or bungling any of the translation. We know Lucky has loved before but never married, and we are left to wonder if there was a Spanish woman who caught his heart for a time.
We know from the photos and a conversation with the woman from the diner that Lucky served in the Navy. During a chance encounter as a former marine pass through the town, Lucky and the veteran discuss their experiences fighting in the Pacific. Lucky gets caught up listening to melancholy tales of the veteran and is reminded of a past that he’s perhaps spent a life time processing or trying to forget.
David Lynch also stars as a fellow bar regular who has lost his pet tortoise and shares his philosophical view on the importance of this enduring reptile. Lynch’s character is struggling to cope without his best friend, named President Roosevelt. Roosevelt will inherit all his belongings when he dies, much to Lucky’s surprise. Lynch has a powerful speech which showcases Lynch not just as the mad genius behind Twin Peaks but as a raconteur in his own right.
As Harry Dean Stanton’s last movie, Lucky takes on a huge significance and the movie just feels like such a perfect end to an iconic actor who leaves behind an incredible career of work. Seeing him swagger off into the sunset is an ending that brings together life and art in such an incredible way. Goodbye Harry, you will be missed.