The City of Absurdity The Straight Story

'Straight Story' is a trip worth taking

By LOUIS B. PARKS, Houston Chronicle, November 5, 1999

The title of The Straight Story has a double meaning.

The movie, which is quite good, is based on the true story of Alvin Straight, who in 1994, at the age of 73, drove several hundred miles from his home in Laurens, Iowa, to Mt. Zion, Wis.

Straight was going to visit his ill brother, from whom he had been estranged for years. What makes the trip noteworthy was that he drove to Wisconsin on a John Deere riding lawnmower, pulling a homemade trailer at a maximum of 5 miles per hour. The trip took six weeks.

The title also represents the way this story is told. It is straightforward, unadorned and without contemporary cynicism. What makes that noteworthy is that the movie is directed by David Lynch, who built his reputation on never-do-anything-straight films such as Eraserhead, Dune, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and the TV series Twin Peaks.

Aside from all that, The Straight Story is a genuine oddity among modern films. Despite being released by Walt Disney and having a G rating, it's not a movie for children but for adults. The older you are, the more likely you are to be entertained.

Some children may enjoy it, especially if they have a sense of family and appreciate older people. But most young people will probably be ready to bolt. Or am I being too cynical?

Alvin is played with unaffected naturalism by one of cinema's most charming actors, Richard Farnsworth. If you do not recognize the name, you've still probably seen him in lots of movies.

A rodeo rider who became a stunt man in a 1938 Gary Cooper movie, The Adventures of Marco Polo, Farnsworth played extra and supporting roles for directors such as John Ford and Howard Hawks. In 1979, he was nominated as best supporting actor in Comes a Horseman with Jane Fonda, and he got his first big starring role in The Grey Fox (1982), winning Canada's best foreign actor Genie and a Golden Globe nomination.

He has never looked more grizzled than as Alvin. Some of the movie's appeal is that it does not pretty up Alvin. The film and the character have charm and sentimental value, but they are not hyped like some rabid Robin Williams movie. You leave the movie liking Alvin but not wanting to adopt him.

There's not much to tell about the story because nothing much happens. Alvin has a few setbacks – nothing major, and they are not overdone with phony drama and heart-pounding music – and he meets some people, most of them nice. (Sorry, but nice is just the word for this movie.)

In what is, if you really want to nitpick, the closest thing to a false note in the movie, Alvin gives a little advice to a woman in trouble, and maybe it helps her.

The film has a number of pleasant cameos by good actors. Sissy Spacek plays Alvin's daughter; Everett McGill (Twin Peaks) is a helpful John Deere dealer; and the Farley brothers, Kevin and John (Waterboy), appear as squabbling brothers.

There's a little surprise at the end for film buffs, but like everything else in this movie, think small. The ending fits just perfectly.


Reviews | The Straight Story page | David Lynch main page
© Mike Hartmann