The Straight Story

Directed by David Lynch
Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton.
MPAA Rating: G

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 31, 1999

A starfield appears on the screen. The words "Walt Disney Pictures presents" flash over it, followed by "a film by David Lynch." I couldn't help but laugh. The master of modern cinema surrealism has made a G-rated movie that is being distributed by Disney.

Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, a 73-year-old man from Laurens, Iowa. After a slip on the floor, the doctor tells him that his hip is bad, and he should use a walker. He is also in the early stages of emphysema, and possibly has diabetes. But Alvin isn't the kind of man to take advice from a doctor; he is determined to live life on his own terms. When he is at his own lowest point, he hears that his estranged brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), had a stroke.

Even though his eyes are too bad to drive, and even though his daughter, Rose (Sissy Spacek), is too slow-witted to get a license, he is emotionally driven to reunite with Lyle. His only option (that is congruent with his pride) is to rig up his lawnmower with a makeshift trailer, and ride out to Mt. Zion, Wisconsin to see him. This means travelling hundreds of miles only in daylight, and eventually crossing the Mississippi River.

>From this extraordinary true story, Lynch has created an incredibly compelling film. The concept is so simple, yet there is an elegant blend of human comedy and deep emotion. The Straight Story is no sentimental TV biopic, but a film of great beauty. Certainly the action is limited, and you could call it Ride Alvin Ride. Aside from the story, however, this film draws you in with probably the best cinematography I've seen this year. Freddie Francis (who did exceptional black and white work for Lynch in The Elephant Man) has captured the midwest in autumn with great care. The colors of the trees, against the highway and the fields being harvested, is just so beautiful that I couldn't begin to describe it.

On top of this is a tour de force performance by Farnsworth, who is on screen nearly all the time. He got his start as a stuntman, and started doing real acting parts in the late 1970's, after anonymously appearing on screen for decades. He never comes off as "acting", instead making you believe that he was actually driving that mower from location to location. Not to be discounted is the performance of Spacek, which could have carried a different film by itself, but is only a small part of this one.

Perhaps Lynch doesn't have to continue making bizarre fare, like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet. His branching out was certainly far more successful than Wes Craven's in Music of the Heart.

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The Straight Story (1999)

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan