Every character actor should get a send-off like Lucky. But then not every character actor is Harry Dean Stanton. In recent years, Stanton, who died on Sept. 15 at 91, became almost as well known for his charismatic offscreen personality as for his decades of work in film (usually as an arresting supporting player, occasionally as a sublime leading man). If you’ve seen the 2014 documentary Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction, you know that the grizzled actor created an aura of Zen philosophy and hard-bitten life lessons, all woven together with Mexican songs (he was a superb singer), tequila, and cigarette haze. The makers of Lucky clearly incorporated many of Stanton’s own attitudes into their film, and the result—though completely fictionalized—feels like a tribute to a singular friend.
The final credit on Digging for Fire is a dedication to the late Paul Mazursky, the director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice and An Unmarried Woman and other bittersweet comedies of manners. It can be presumptuous for a young filmmaker—here mumblecore maven Joe Swanberg—to invoke a predecessor. But in this case, fair enough. Digging for Fire has aspects that do indeed recall Mazursky’s movies: a sunburnt L.A. location, an undercurrent of satire directed at its floundering characters, and close attention to actors. Some pretentiousness, too, although in this case everything goes down pretty easily.
While Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt, of Touchy Feely) house-sit in a rambling mansion far above their pay grade (she’s a yoga instructor to a rich person who’s lent them the place for a while), they decide to spend a weekend apart.