2017, NR, 88 min. Directed by John Carroll Lynch. Starring Harry Dean Stanton, Barry Shabaka Henley, Beth Grant, Ron Livingston, David Lynch, Tom Skerritt, Ed Begley Jr., Yvonne Huff, James Darren.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 13, 2017
At 90, Lucky (Stanton) is still sharp, mentally and physically. Motoring around his home in his sagging boxer briefs, he starts every day with the same routine: brushing his teeth, slicking back his flyaway grays, and setting down his cigarette long enough to do a few minutes of calisthenics. Tracking Lucky’s movements around a sparsely populated desert town, more routines are established: There’s the diner where he does his crosswords and trades friendly insults with the owner, Joe (Henley), the bodega where he buys his smokes and gallon of milk, the strict timetable he keeps to so he can get home for his shows. A moment of faintness followed by a fall disrupts that routine. Even with the all-clear from his doctor, this fall, Lucky admits, “rung his bell.” Nine decades on, Lucky is finally getting around to confronting his mortality.
Built around vignettes, Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja’s heavy-handed script walks Lucky through roughly three-fifths of the Kübler-Ross stages; he’s more cranky than angry, and the only bargaining he attempts is to convince the proprietor of his favorite bar (Grant) to let him light up inside. The stagiest, least successful vignettes are the ones set inside that bar, peopled with gentle kooks (including David Lynch, Stanton’s longtime friend and creative collaborator) who chew over their lives in long monologues that strain for profundity.
There’s no strain when first-time director John Carroll Lynch – most famous in front of the camera for playing Norm Gunderson in the Coen brothers’ Fargo – stays fixed on Stanton, in part, perhaps, because the film feels like such a gift from one character actor to another. In a six-decade-long career benchmarked with Paris, Texas, Cool Hand Luke, Alien, Repo Man, Pretty in Pink, and The Straight Story, Stanton played many memorable supporting parts but only rarely got the lead. Here, in one of his final roles before his passing in September, Stanton’s face fills near every frame – a face, famously hangdog even in the bloom of his youth, that is as epic and breathtaking as the desert mountains Lynch lenses at dusk. You feel Lucky’s frustration and gloom, how they burden him, without Stanton opening his mouth. But thank goodness he does, otherwise we wouldn’t get to hear him croon the lover’s lament “Volver, Volver” with a backing mariachi band. The moment is sublime – gawdam, Harry could really sell a song – and piercingly poignant.