A fitting sendoff for a fantastic actor, Harry Dean Stanton embodies Lucky in a funny and touching slice of life that’s nearing its expiry date.
Valedictoryby Gus Edgar
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The late Harry Dean Stanton’s final film may just be his perfect sendoff. After years of work as a supporting player after Paris, Texas, he returns to the forefront with a similarly affecting performance (and a similar score to boot, too), as the titular character in John Carroll Lynch’s (another famous character actor) Lucky.
Unlike Stanton’s role in Paris, Texas, Lucky is motivated and outspoken, keen to get on with his life. He lives in a tiny desert town in an unspecified location, its isolation in the American landscape mirroring his own. At the age of 90, he’s outlived his peers, has no kids or wife to speak of, and resorts to a stuffy basement bar to chat and argue with his colleagues. Most of them enjoy repeating tales from their youth.
Nicknamed ‘Lucky’ because he served in the Navy during WWII as a cook (the safest job), Stanton is less concerned with his past and looks more towards his future. He maintains a confident facade but underneath his bravura lies an innate fear of the void. In one scene, he confesses that he’s scared. Of what, he doesn’t specify – but he doesn’t need to. The film’s opening images of his sagging skin and drooping eyes, and the ponderings on mortality thereafter are telling enough.
Don’t be deceived by the subject matter though; Lucky is most certainly a comedy, and it pries out laughter effortlessly. There’s a plot about the escape of David Lynch’s character’s pet tortoise (named President Roosevelt) that plays out like a non sequitur. Lucky’s quips are cutting but – crucially – funny, delivered with an endearingly gruff persona. There’s one scene – taking place at a party – that’s as touching and hilarious as anything you’ll see this year. The lack of tumbleweeds in this desert setting may just indicate that no joke falls flat.
Yet the film floats by like one; Lucky is a slice of life nearing its expiry date. Like its aged characters, the film will disappear from memory soon enough. But it’s a film in the moment, content with its current place and aware of the impermanence of everything around it. So enjoy it while it lasts.
Lucky screens in the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 9, 10 and 13 October 2017.