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Written by Stanton's acquaintances and friends Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja based in large part on Stanton's own cantankerous personality and routines, Lucky is a man who lives by his own little schedule. He does yoga in the mornings, makes coffee, and sets out on a brief walking journey around his tiny town. He hits up a diner to do his crossword and trade barbs with the owner, Joe (Barry Shabaka Henley), then travels to a tiny grocery store for more milk to put in his otherwise empty fridge, walks past a mysterious locale that he expresses his vocal displeasure for, then returns home for some late afternoon game shows and a phone call with a stranger the audience never gets to hear. Finally, he closes out the night at a bar, where owner Elaine (Beth Grant) keeps the patrons entertained with stories about her and her husband Paulie (James Darren), and Lucky checks in with his one friend, dedicated tortoise owner Howard (the aforementioned David Lynch).
Even though Lucky's routine brings him in contact with plenty of people he talks to and seems to get along with -- Joe, Howard, convenience store owner Bibi (Bertila Damas), waitress Loretta (Yvonne Huff), bartender Vincent (Hugo Armstrong) -- it also keeps him isolated from self-reflection. Thus, when Lucky spontaneously collapses while waiting for his morning coffee to brew, what really affects him isn't Dr. Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) informing him that old age is taking its toll, it's the experience of getting knocked out of his comfort zone. Pretty soon, Lucky finds himself wrangling with the sense of his own mortality: no matter where he looks, there's another reminder that the whole charade is about to come to an end. Unsurprisingly, Lucky is a pessimistic guy, stuck on the notion that nothing lasts forever and that ultimately people's actions are meaningless, but as his fear and uncertainty prompts him to open up, the more he finds the people around him gently challenging his convictions.
Stanton, always a rail-thin man with an expressively crinkled face, occasionally looks as frail as one might expect a 91-year-old performer to look, coming off as distant or disconnected. As the film gets going, however, his eyes light up, whether delivering a snappy barb or exuding a sincere warmth. The sight of a lawyer, Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston), promising to bequeath all of Howard's belongings to his escaped tortoise (should the tortoise return) gets a rise out of Lucky, while an impromptu visit from Yvonne turns him vulnerable again. Lucky is, by its very nature, a somewhat slight movie that aims to find a naturalistic poetry in the unexpected and complex experience of relating to other people, and without the right kind of performance holding the picture together, it could easily seem self-indulgent or self-important. Of course, the fact that it was written for and based off of Stanton makes the connection easier, but when he sings and smiles, the shaggy structure suddenly feels a little tighter.
Based on all the parentheses in the paragraphs above, it should be clear that Sparks, Sumonja, and fellow character actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch have also armed Stanton with plenty of support, almost all of whom get to make a mark or have a moment. A second scene between Stanton and Livingston strikes a tricky tonal balance that isn't quite forgiveness or warmth, but still represents a settling of differences. The scene where Yvonne visits Lucky lets the awkwardness hang in the air, intermingling with Yvonne's sincere desire to make sure Lucky is doing all right. A brief stand-off between Lucky and Elaine is strong enough that it could've ended the film, although the film has further loose ends to wrap up, and does. There's even another drop-in to mention: Tom Skerritt, popping into the diner as a fellow war vet Lucky swaps stories with. However, it's Lynch who stands tall among the supporting cast, delivering a speech about his missing reptile friend that might sound absurd on paper but brings a tear to the eye as delivered in the film. Like Stanton himself, the best parts of Lucky are a sincere ode to the authentic and slightly obscure people just on the edges of the frame.
The art that Magnolia has come up with for Lucky strikes me as a bit moodier than the movie actually is, perhaps even implying at a glance that the film is a Western, but that could just be me. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly DVD case with a glossy slipcover that features identical artwork to the sleeve, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Lucky gets an adequate and unremarkable 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation on DVD. For the most part, the film looks fine, with digital-cinematography levels of fine detail and natural colors. Light is blown out when the characters are indoors, but the effect appears intentional. In some of the more complex shots, texture-wise, namely the occasional footage out in the brush, the image looks a little rough, but only in the sense that standard definition can't quite resolve all the details perfectly (the real shame is that Magnolia seems to be pulling back from the Blu-ray game, failing to offer a high-def counterpart). Sound is mostly dialogue with the occasional bit of key music, and those musical sequences sound quite nice, with the rest coming across basically unaffected and natural. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Four video extras are included. The first one, "A Few Words From Harry Dean Stanton" (1:52), is actually kind of sad, consisting of an attempt to get the late actor to do an EPK-style interview. Stanton protests, mentioning how tiring the making of the movie was, which feels kind of like foreshadowing for his passing shortly thereafter. Instead, check out "Behind the Scenes: Harry Dean Stanton's Final Film Take" (2:18), a bit of B-roll of Stanton completing the film's title card. His warmth toward the tiny assembled crew once the shot is complete is much more pleasant as a wistful tribute.
The other two are interviews, the first with director John Carroll Lynch (13:52), and the second with co-writers/producers Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja (27:25). In the first, Lynch talks about being invited to work on the project, first as an actor and then later as a director, developing the script with Stanton and the co-writers, and his awareness of Stanton as a performer. He also tells his "Harry Dean Stanton story," which features Dabney Coleman. Sparks and Sumonja, meanwhile, talk about deciding to write the script, how they scheduled the writing, Stanton's specificity and efficiency, John Carroll Lynch and Stanton's process, the art of collaborating, and the thrill of luring Stanton's friends to be in the movie (especially David Lynch). They also close with a bit of memorializing, which is quite nice. The latter piece goes on a bit long, but both men are so sincere and clearly emotional (Sumonja says Stanton died within a week of the interview), it's hard to fault the editor.
Trailers for The Square (2017), Blade of the Immortal, Permanent, and promos for The Charity Network and axs TV play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Lucky is also included.
Lucky is a warm-hearted and generally successful tribute to the late Harry Dean Stanton, featuring an impressive performance that showcases a range of the man's talent. Although it's a shame Magnolia has opted not to release a Blu-ray of the film, this DVD edition is solid across the board. Recommended.
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