Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: LUCKY

Lucky, a rake-thin man in his nineties, wakes in the big light of his western town to a morning ritual of yoga, coffee, milk and yoga before going to the diner to do the crossword and strolling back home for his game shows, pausing to swear into what from our point of view looks like a tunnel tiled with gold discs. At home, he will call information to help with the crossword and then go to a family Bible sized dictionary on a lectern to learn the definition, savouring the words out loud. We'll will see him do many of these things again and again throughout this film, following him on slow thoughtful walks through his Arizona town that has both the kitsch and real beauty of a thrift store painting. He likes his life well enough, it's the world that bugs him, and knows it is soon to end.

Doesn't sound like much? Well, add to that a cast of characters who are encountered like figures from a pilgrimage but sound, dress and drink like western USA, add too a handful of the most poignant spoken confessions you are likely to hear in a cinema for years and the convergence of Lucky's mortality with that of the man playing him, Harry Dean Stanton.

Lucky's monastic humility is overbalanced by the grumpiness expected of him by the townsfolk who greet him warmly but sigh to remind him everyday that he can't smoke indoors. A mark of quality of this film is that we don't just get a parade of golden hearted rednecks letting him get loud and ornery. Sometimes his verbal attacks are just plain wrong. Sometimes they're right but misconstrued. In one simply staged but beautifully bizarre sequence he is led into a demonstration of mortality where his own puzzlement stops him in his tracks. There's one part of life he now knows he doesn't have an answer to.

When Actors Direct could be the title of a tv clip show aimed at the cringe-hungry millions. It's often like the older guys dancing at office parties: too little or too much. Some actors at the helm want to show us how cinematic they can be with needless camera gymnastics or gruelling single take acting workshops. John Carroll Lynch (who has a long and impressive rap sheet as an actor) has debuted as a director with a dignity appropriate to his subject. The desert exteriors are beautiful but always practical. The performances never stray from believable (not even Stanton himself gets an indulgence) including (perhaps in the interests of balance) the director turned actor David Lynch in a significant role. John Carroll Lynch (no relation to the Eraserhead guy) has given us a film with a leanness both pragmatic and rich, like a classic American short story.

Lucky has been tagged as the spiritual journey of an atheist. I appreciate the soggy irony of the paradox but can't agree. Spiritual is a word I find so over relied upon that is has become meaningless. All too often it's offered as a conversational patch for people who don't want to appear mundane by talking about consciousness, emotion, ethics or whatnot. Lucky (and perhaps Stanton himself) shouts one of his fellow drinkers down when they refer to the soul. He means it.

He does look for meaning. Those crosswords aren't just a few idle strokes of the biro and his glacial ambles through the town and desert are only quiet on the outside. Spiritual, pah!, this is a philosophical journey through tangible reality. But that doesn't rule out one kind of levitation as we hear when he confronts the entire bar with his life's M.O. and later proves as he smiles at us directly before wandering off, only slightly faster than the tortoise we also see on its own journey.

And what does it all mean? Meh, its life: you live it, it ends. If you see this expression of it you will be happier than you were, however fleetingly, and it is one group of eighty-eight consecutive minutes you won't want refunded.

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