The star is Harry Dean Stanton, who plays Lucky, a flinty fellow who is a lot like real-life Harry Dean Stanton but who lives in a very small desert town in the American Southwest.
We don’t know how or when Lucky came to this place, but we learn his daily rituals: the same outfit and hat, crossword puzzles, television game shows and morning stops at the coffee shop and grocery store. In the evenings he walks to Elaine’s bar and has a bloody margarita with friends.
Lucky is an atheist with family pictures on a shelf but no family except the other people in town. He has saggy skin, age spots, a heavily lined face and big bags under his eyes. It’s unusual to see old people in movies now, let alone very old people who wear their age honestly and without cosmetic enhancement.
One morning, Lucky collapses on the floor in his house. He consults his doctor, who finds no specific problem but tells Lucky, “You’re old, and you’re getting older.”
The movie follows Lucky for a week or so afterward while, without saying as much, he meditates on the impermanence of life. He recalls moments from his youth and reminisces with another World War II veteran about battles in the Pacific.
There is gentle humor as one of Lucky’s bar friends mourns the escape of his 100-year-old tortoise, President Roosevelt, “who has outlived two of my wives.”
Later, Lucky tears into a lawyer who specializes in estate planning — twice. If Lucky has a soft core and perhaps even some doubts, well, the self he shows the world is just about as prickly as the saguaro cacti that dot his town’s landscape.
There is nice music here, and a broad range of it — from Liberace, Johnny Cash, and Lucky playing “Red River Valley” on his harmonica. Perhaps most movingly, Lucky sings “Volver, Volver,” a Spanish ballad of loss and regret, accompanied by a mariachi band at child’s birthday party.
In all, the movie is a reflection on the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. These matters concern us all, and “Lucky” treats them honestly but not with a heavy hand. Viewers who can enjoy films without exaggerated conflict will find much to appreciate here.
In an odd twist, Harry Dean Stanton, who plays Lucky, died at 91 shortly before the movie was released this year. He’d been an actor since 1954, playing roles in everything from “Paris, Texas” to “Repo Man” to “Alien” to “Big Love.” This film is seen as a fitting final performance by a long-admired character actor not in the traditional mold.
Two words — Logan and Lucky — have combined for three film titles this year: “Logan,” “Logan Lucky” and now “Lucky.” What’s up with that? Were all the other normal words taken?