SXSW Film Review – Lucky
One of the more independent films I saw at SXSW was Lucky. There was already buzz about the film due to Harry Dean Stanton’s involvement and actor John Carroll Lynch’s first time as a director. The film had its world premiere at SXSW.
Lucky’s story revolves around Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton), an older gentleman (Stanton is 89 years old) who goes about his daily life in a small town in Arizona. He has the same morning routine, eats breakfast at the same diner working through a crossword puzzle, goes on a walk in town, stops by a mini mart, and then heads home to take in his shows and continue on that puzzle. His nights are spent at a local bar, swigging back a Bloody Mary and complaining about no smoking. He is content in his life. It’s not exciting, but it is his. It all changes for Lucky when he falls at home one morning. Suddenly, life becomes more urgent and it changes his daily outlook on life.
Lucky is an examination of life when something does not according to plan. Lucky has lived his life with almost no thought that one day may be his last. He certainly isn’t the healthiest older man, but he does exercises daily and lives without assistance. It is that one hiccup, the fall, that smacks him back to reality. It’s not that he doesn’t realize that he is old, but it does not figure into his daily life. He does not want to become one of those old people in the nursing home. The visit to his doctor (Ed Begley, Jr.) is what solidifies that his life is finite. His doctor could run tests, but what’s the point when you are that old. There is a moment in the waiting room when Lucky sees an older woman struggling to walk across the room with her walker and sit down. Her comments of “God, God, God, why?” pretty much sums up the place where Lucky does not want to be.
More than anything, this film is a love letter to Harry Dean Stanton. He is the star of the film, and it is him that could pull off this character better than anyone else. He is both quiet and introspective, while also crotchety and defiant. While he still is feisty as demonstrated while yelling “Cunts!” to a certain place he has no love for, his recent fall has changed him. It is the quiet moments, the restless sleep as he grapples with his life as it is, while being set to a Johnny Cash song, that speak to the depths that Stanton can continue to evoke. The retrospective of other brushes with mortality from his life come back to him. One particular scene with a fellow diner patron (Tom Skerritt) has them remembering the days of war and a memory of a smiling girl. It is these tête-à-têtes with different actors that continue to peel away the layers of consciousness in Lucky, realizing his fate, everyone’s fate.
Lucky is one of those small, independent films that people are able to find at film festivals. The audience is able to connect with the character and the story, and walk away loving a film that really is so simple in structure but examines something so complex like life and death. Director Lynch was really able to showcase Stanton and just let him do what he is great at doing, acting. It is a film with a relatable character surrounded by a cast of interesting people, those who keep Lucky’s life pretty fulfilled. It’s not perfect and it’s not exactly his best life, but it is his.