' ' Cinema Romantico: Lucky

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


“Lucky” opens with a tortoise crawling across the desert, an image director John Carroll Lynch strains to mirror his titular protagonist (Harry Dean Stanton), a 90 year old loner who, wonder of wonders, is still going. But Lucky’s gait, which we see not long after, is less slow and steady than aggressive and brisk, as much as it can be for a man of his age, which is evocative of his all-important daily routine – yoga, cigarettes, coffee, more coffee at the local diner while dueling with the crossword, errands, a Bloody Mary and conversation at his preferred watering hole. That routine will have to be futzed up, of course, and so it is, though the film never really reflects this in its tone or narrative, still coming across pretty neat and orderly, where the screenplay by Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks lines up a series of encounters so convenient they feel cosmically underwritten. Then again, the script is admirable its refusal to truck in conventional reveals. There are no secrets lurking, no big epiphanies waiting. When Lucky meets a former fellow marine at the diner (Tom Skerritt) who has a war story to tell, the scene is not any kind of narrative trigger, just a pause for reflection.

The movie’s inciting incident, if you can call it that, is a fainting spell that sends Lucky to a jocular doctor (Ed Begley Jr.) who actually confirm his patient’s unhealthy habits might karmically do more good than harm, intrinsically suggesting that his patient has lived a life free from regret. Ultimately the fainting spell has no explanation, another cosmic underwriting, a means to try and make Lucky take stock before he inevitably merges with the infinite. This is underlined by an insurance salesman, played by Ron Livingston with a mustache that comes on a little too sleazily archetypal, trying to convince Lucky to get his end of life affairs in order. Lucky is not interested in this, reasoning that when you’re dead you’re dead.

“Lucky” challenges that viewpoint, a bit too forcefully at times, such as a montage set to Johnny Cash’s “I See Darkness” that feels like a music video suddenly decided to set up shop in the midst of a movie. Befitting most of “Lucky”, it finds this questioning more in Stanton’s countenance, like his laconically authoritative speaking voice, where rather than adding a period to statements of act he just trails off, that deliberate dead air leaving a little space to wonder about the certainty of his knowledge. He often makes these pronouncements amidst his drinking buddies, paradoxical given his stance as a loner, including Paulie (James Darren), introduced by explaining how he met the bar’s owner (Beth Grant), the love of his life. This, it is made clear, is not his first re-telling of the story, which he is lightly ridiculed for, though not too much, because the scene is intended to elicit something more akin to contentment.

That’s where Lucky seems to end up too. Granted, it’s a sensation difficult to capture, particularly when there really are not any rivers to cross, though Lynch seems to try to get a little mystical with it at the end, pairing Lucky with the image of cactuses standing tall and proud in the desert. It is seen better in an earlier moment when he attends the birthday party of the son of the woman running the five and dime. Suddenly, Lucky stands up and joins the mariachi band in song. If heretofore we had no inkling that Lucky could even sing, well, that is what makes it so powerful, evoking the fullness of a life lived, where so many skills can sometimes be made to lay dormant, until the moment so blindingly presents itself, and Lucky, like Harry Dean Stanton, who died a couple weeks before this movie’s release, gets a chance to shine.

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