Saturday, 11 November 2017

Lucky (2017 EIFF 13)

The closing film of the 2017 EIFF was one of the most inspiring films of the festival and, given the recent passing of Harry Dean Stanton, a fitting way to end the festival. 

Lucky, directed by John Carroll Lynch, stars the 90-year-old Stanton as Lucky, a WWII veteran living by himself in a small house on the outskirts of a small town in the Arizona desert. When Lucky collapses suddenly in his home, it takes a toll on his carefully structured life and makes him realize that he will not be living forever. 

We follow Lucky as he goes to the local coffee shop and talks to Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley), the owner, and Loretta (Yvonne Huff), a waitress who will visit Lucky at home later in the film (in one of the film’s many precious moments). Lucky goes on to visit his other regular haunts, including  the local bar, owned by Elaine and Paulie (Beth Grant and James Darren), who like to argue with Lucky (who is an atheist obsessed with truth and realism). At the bar, Lucky meets Howard (David Lynch), whose turtle has run off. Then there’s Ed Begley, Jr. as Lucky's doctor, Ron  Livingston as an insurance agent (Lucky detests such people) and Tom Skerritt as a fellow WWII veteran, a stranger who is just passing through.

Lucky is a slow-paced film that follows Lucky’s daily routine and his relationships/discussions with the townsfolk. There is otherwise no plot to speak of. But the discussions are often riveting (especially the one with Skerritt) or moving (e.g. the one with Livingston) or profound. And when Lucky suddenly breaks out in a Spanish song at a birthday party, you know this is something special (Stanton was a musician). 

One of the writers of Lucky attended the festival and did a Q&A after the film. He noted (no surprise) that Lucky’s personality is very similar to Stanton’s own personality. He also noted that the actors in the film were friends of Stanton who were eager to participate. This provides some excellent acting work for such a low-budget indie film, but it also gives us a few performances that were a little less than convincing. Stanton, though, makes up for all of them with a sublime performance that is the perfect end to his acting career.

The writing was very good but a little uneven, providing moments of brilliance but also moments that falter, with some missed opportunities to go deeper. Among Lucky’s more memorable quotes: “I know the truth and the truth matters”; “the only thing worse than an awkward silence: small talk”; and “there’s a difference between lonely and being alone.” The cinematography and score are excellent. Lucky is a humble humanizing film about death and loneliness that falls just a little short of being a classic. It gets a solid ***+, verging on ****. My mug is up. 

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