LUCKY (Movie Review)

*1/2 out of ****
Not Rated (for adults only)
(for strong language, smoking, drug use)
Released:  September 29, 2017 limited; October 20 expands
Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: John Caroll Lynch
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Barry Shabaka Henley, Beth Grant, James Darren, Yvonne Huff, David Lynch

An actor’s showcase that doesn’t give its actor much to showcase.

That’s Lucky, an ill-titled character study and ironically named final screen role for Harry Dean Stanton, who passed away earlier this year. Talk about a guy who deserved better.

Lucky wants to be a movie about life and death, to say things about loneliness and meaning. But as this ornery hero strolls around town with a severely uncongenial disposition, all the movie does is play cute with its foul-mouthed weed smoking old coot.

Billed as “the spiritual journey of a 90-year-old atheist”, that provocative tag line bears no resemblance to the simplistic void this limp screenplay provides. It’s existentialism writ adorable, on a canvas of schmaltzy nihilism.

Stanton’s Lucky is no more an atheist than any other average non-sectarian agnostic seen in most other movies. There’s no talk or debate of God. Conversations lack any honest depth or true wisdom, at best peppered with clever one-liners and flat aphorisms that ring false. Even Lucky’s loner grumpiness is perfectly agreeable  to him, a state that’s proudly self-imposed.

As spiritual journeys go, its theme is the mystical hogwash that existence is nothing. We are nothing. All is nothing. Yet it’s a message (calling it a “message” is even being generous) that’s delivered with a surprising level of sappy pandering, as if a life devoid of meaning is supposed to bring peace to your heart and put a smile on your face.

Part of this lies in the notion that everything’s relative; a valid perspective, given life’s grays and complexities. But this film embraces a depressing form of humanism, and then drapes it in flaky sentimentality.

The disheartening failure of Lucky is no fault of its legendary lead. Stanton’s mere presence is substantial, and evocative, but he’s given little worthwhile to say, do, or contemplate, outside of a beautifully rendered song at a Quinceañera party. It embodies everything the movie aspires to be, but isn’t.

Character actor John Caroll Lynch struggles to tell a cohesive story in his directorial debut, or create a cohesive experience. It’s an amateur effort. It largely feels sincere, to Lynch’s credit, and he comes up with some inspired visual metaphors, but the screenplay by Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja never sounds credible, let alone enlightening. It’s all randomly contrived instead of emerging from a personal, specific place.

The faux conviction is particularly hard to buy when you consider the legacy of Harry Dean Stanton himself, a character actor who made a lasting, meaningful mark on the cinematic art form, his fellow artists, and the cinephiles who grew to love him.

Philosophically vacant, Lucky embraces a dissatisfying, empty state of Zen. Consequently, as far as poignant swan songs go, I’ll stick with this one as the final on-screen ode for Harry Dean Stanton:

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