“What I know happened against what you think happened.”
As a director, David Lynch is in the pantheon of auteurs. As an actor, he’s something of a fish out of water. That’s to be expected: he’s not a thespian, and that shows in Lucky, a film by John Carroll Lynch making his directorial debut after two decades working in front of the camera.
David Lynch’s role in Lucky is a limited one, but his struggle to hold the audience captive slightly mirror’s John Carroll Lynch’s first crack as a director. There’s something to watch, and most of it holds water, but there’s no signature left by the veteran actor, at least not as he’s able to do as an actor like his roles in Zodiac or Fargo. That should be praised to an extent, as he’s not trying to fully imitate the likes of David Fincher, the Coen brothers or even the famed director he landed for an extended cameo. At the same rate, there’s something to be desired by playing things too safe.
One of the boldest moments in Lucky comes at the start where the audience is left in silence watching a 90-year-old man known only as Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) go through his regular routine. He gets out of bed, does exactly 21 reps of yoga stretches, stares at his clock that’s stuck at midnight, proceeds to open his refrigerator that only houses three cartons of milk, and promptly places a half-drained glass in the fridge. Then he goes to town.
Most impressive about the sequence that continues as Lucky walks miles to a diner: it’s all communicated just through images. Of course, that’s by design from screenwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, but conveying this certain emptiness through visual sequences should be commended.
At the same time, this builds a mythos around Lucky as a “get off my lawn”-type character walking through life with contempt. Once he speaks, Stanton’s performance quickly puts that to rest. There are scattered moments of distaste with modern society, like when a gay couple kisses, but that seems more about them being in Lucky’s regular spot in the diner, not anger at what this world has come to since his days serving in the Navy during World War II.
But it’s ultimately these trying moments that help build Lucky into a more developed person by the film’s end. He’s an atheist and something of a nihilistic one at that, and while he doesn’t find “God,” nor does anyone impose that on him, he’s unknowingly on a journey for a new spirit.
This is all fostered by people like his best friend Howard (David Lynch), and his other contemporaries at his favorite bar, as well as a kind-hearted gas station cashier he buys cigarettes from every day. But as this is all routine for him, Lucky’s growth only truly seems spurred by new encounters, like his conversations with Howard’s attorney (Ron Livingston) and a fellow WWII veteran (Tom Skerritt), ultimately encouraging the audience to experience life beyond routine.
That’s the biggest issue at hand and it’s one not fully realized until the credits crawl. The process in which Lucky goes through his days is still captivating with a mostly successful cast. David Lynch may struggle to convincingly sling back dialogue but others like Stanton more than hold it together with excellent exchanges with Livingston and Skerritt. Though, Stanton’s most successful acting by himself or when breaking into monologs whoever cliché they may be.
It’s a mostly by-the-books project that shows Lynch has yet to find his flair, but at least it’s competent, and with the help of some bitingly funny moments from the script — like when Stanton yells at a hidden object to suck it — it’s a project worthy of attention. Hopefully Lynch keeps at it in the director’s chair.