The City of Absurdity The Straight Story

Daily Californian, October 1999
with many thanks to Greg M.

"The Straight Story" is that of Alvin Straight's (Richard Farnsworth), a 73-year-old man who resides in Laurens, Iowa with his autisitc daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek). Upon receiving a phone call notifying Alvin that his brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has had a stroke. You see, Alvin and Lyle, now estranged after a fight ten years ago, haven't spoken since. Now it's up to Alvin to swallow his pride, and try to make amends with his brother before it's too late.

It makes no difference that David Lynch happens to be my personal favorite filmmaker, but "The Straight Story" is easily one of the year's very best films, with a nice comfortable spot at the top of my "ten best" list. "The Straight Story" is an emotional journey, fullfilling and touching, and from about the start of the film to the end, put a broad smile on my face and kept it there.

With no driver's license due to bad eyesight, too dogmatic to accept a ride, and with bad hips (he uses two canes to walk, being too stuborn to use a walker), Alvin constructs a mini-trailer and attatches it to his small John Deere tractor/lawnmower. He travels 370 miles to Mount Zion, Wis., along the way meeting a various assortment of characters from a runaway teen, to a beligerant driver who's hit 13 deer in the last week, to a fellow World War II vetern. With each aquaintance, Alvin serves as a "knowledge dispenser," prophecizing (but not preaching) smart reproaches to what their troubles might be. He might have a hard time seeing them, but he has the ability to easily see their problems.

Many Lynch fans may be surprised by the odd-auteur's choice to direct a "G" rated film. But I don't think they will be disappointed –Lynch's style is still very apparent and evident, and carefully treated like any other film he's directed. Best described by writer/producer Mary Sweeney, "The Straight Story" is like a "four-mile an hour road trip." There are no big explosions –though he does shoot an old lawnmower–, no bar room brawls, sadistic oxygen-yielding fiends, freaky mystery men with white painted faces, but what it is, is a good 'ol slice of Americana portrayed with a lot of heart.

Farnsworth is an ultimately seasoned actor, for someone as old as he, he was so full of life! It was glorious just to be able to read into the wrinkles of his face, each telling a story. Farnsworth easily has a shot for Best Actor, and I fully believe he deserves it. Sissy Spacek as well, has an unbelievably special role, with a good chance at a supporting actress bid due to her poignaint portrayal. The more you eventually learn about her character, the more touching it is. Although his time on screen is very minimal, and without much dialogue, the film wouldn't have been complete withour Harry Dean Stanton. He brings his own charm just being on screen, and as for the other supporting actors, although most were unknowns, they were carefully selected to maximize each tidbit. Two of the very best were Anastasia Webb, a runaway teen (the stick scene is very touching), and Wiley Harker as the WWII vet, as both men reveal something of a troubling past. And surprisingly, the film was filled with a nice helping of humor.

As promised with any Lynch film, it is very technically adept, everything from the cinematography (excellently done by 80-year-old Freddie Francis), to editing and production design. David Lynch has brought us a cleansing and wholesome film, in which may be the best picture you'll see all year, and one that's suitable for the entire family. Although it might not seem possible, like "The Elephant Man," it is very capable of bringing tears to your eyes. Lynch has rarely been better.


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© Mike Hartmann