'Lucky' a fitting eulogy for actor Harry Dean Stanton

Lucky, written as a tribute to Harry Dean Stanton, ends up being a fitting cinematic eulogy to the late actor, who died last month.

Stanton brought an authentic Kentucky twang and blue-collar presence to his roles, and though he was initially used to bringing a set-in-the-South reality to movies like Cool Hand Luke, his brand proved highly portable. He took memorable turns in Alien, David Lynch movies (including Wild at Heart and The Straight Story) and Repo Man.

Lucky was created specifically for Stanton, designed to give him an overdue starring role, and helmed by John Carroll Lynch, himself a longtime character actor making his feature directing debut (it’s the kind of nonlinear, performance-heavy movie actors like).

Lots of friends and colleagues show up to share scenes with Stanton, who is playing what appears to be a version of himself (the title character is also Navy veteran and Kentucky native). Lucky is a ninetysomething eccentric living in a remote desert town, rising every day for calisthenics and coffee, then heading downtown to the café, the convenience store for cigarettes, then onto the saloon for his usual Bloody Mary — the celery stick appears to be daily allotment of vegetables and fiber.

These pit stops offer occasions for two-hander acting sessions with the movie’s eclectic cast. There’s David Lynch himself as a neighbor lamenting the loss of his pet tortoise, James Darren as a barfly, Tom Skerritt as a fellow veteran talking about WWII over pie and coffee, and Ed Begley Jr. as the physician who takes the measure of Lucky’s fragile health and diagnoses him as “old.”

Lucky has a fainting spell and when word gets around, the townsfolk express concern and sympathy. He’s having none of it. The irascible old-timer is allergic to charitable feelings, though he has some of his own, and they when they surface, they do so with force.

If you’ve seen Cool Hand Luke, you may remember that Stanton can sing (“Just a Closer Walk with Thee”) like an angel. An angel that chain smokes and drinks vodka. The showstopper here is Lucky at a Mexican American child’s birthday party, performing a Spanish song as a thank you for being invited.

This could stand as Lucky’s view of life, now that he’s near the end of it: He’s thankful for having been invited.

It put me in mind of one of my favorite Stanton roles, in an obscure 1985 movie called UFOria. He plays a faith healer touring the Southwest as the head of a traveling revival act, though he doesn’t believe in God.

His con man buddy, played by fellow character actor Fred Ward, asks him why he does it.

“Beats working for Lockheed,” Stanton’s character says with a laugh.

He seemed to get the same playing-hooky pleasure from acting, to our great benefit.

MOVIES

Lucky

    • Directed by John Carroll Lynch. With Harry Dean Stanton, James Darren, David Lynch, Ed Begley and Tom Skerritt. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.

    • Running time: 1 hour 26 mins.

    • Parents guide: Not rated

    • Playing at: Ritz Five, Bryn Mawr Film Institute