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Review: Harry Dean Stanton stars as a quirky, existential charmer in Lucky

David Lynch, left, and the late Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky, a laconic meditation on mortality, loneliness and spirituality.

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Directed by
John Carroll Lynch
Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch

"I miss my friend, his company. I miss his personality," David Lynch says in the new film Lucky. "You know what I'm saying? He affected me."

Lynch's character is speaking passionately about his lost pet tortoise, a century-old companion named President Roosevelt. Lynch himself could probably say the same thing about the late Harry Dean Stanton, who posthumously stars in Lucky, the final movie in the man's long career. A minor-keyed character player of cultish appeal, Stanton affected many, possibly including Lynch, who directed the actor in this year's Twin Peaks reboot.

Stanton died in September at 91 of natural causes. He was a smoker, as is the old cowboy-hat-wearing coot he plays in Lucky. When someone tells him that cigarettes are going to kill him, he dismisses the concern. "If they could have, they would have," he reasons.

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Lynch has a supporting role in the film, a wonderfully laconic meditation on mortality, loneliness and spirituality. Everybody supports Stanton, whose titular character answers to the nickname "Lucky." The cast includes Ed Begley (as Lucky's physician) and James Darren, who is charming as a satisfied lifetime loafer.

The story is set in a small town in the southwestern United States, where Lucky is a gaunt bachelor of mundane routine. His days involve a ritual of morning yoga – five exercises, 21 repetitions each – followed by a glass of milk and then a making of the rounds: a diner, where he struggles with crossword puzzles and polite conversation; a grocery store, for milk and cigarettes; back home to watch game shows; and a Bloody Mary nightcap at a booze joint where the regulars all know his name.

Making his directorial debut is actor John Carroll Lynch (no relation to David Lynch). This first-timer quirks things up occasionally with surreal scenes of a nightmare and an on-the-nose allegory (Lucky walking toward an exit sign and standing at an abyss).

At one point, we hear Johnny Cash's version of I See A Darkness, which he recorded toward the end of his career, for the album Solitary Man. Lucky sees beauty in being alone; he says "alone" comes from two words, "all one."

He's come to terms with what he sees as the truth: That authority is arbitrary and that when you die everything goes away into the blackness and you're left with un gotz, which is to say "nothing."

Lucky drops that cheery existential pearl on the crowd of oldies at the bar. "What are we supposed to do with that?" he is asked.

His answer? "You smile."

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You smile when you come to a realization that makes sense and you smile when something comes together in the end. Like this film. And like Stanton's career. Lucky us.

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