The City of Absurdity The Straight Story

The Straight Story

US Premiere magazine, September 1999
with many thanks to Bill Myers

The party line on this latest David Lynch movie is that it's nothing like a David Lynch movie; it's got no cusswords, no psychos sucking weird substances from oxygen masks, no white-faced, yellow-toothed demons, no kinky sexcapades, no sticky head wounds, no hematomas - in short, none of the stuff that people generally associate with Lynch's movies. No, The Straight Story is a sweet, moving, only slightly eccentric tale - based on actual events - about how one Alvin Straight, in an epic act of pride-swallowing, drives a John Deere lawnmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to pay a visit to his recently stroke-ridden brother, with whom he hasn't spoken in ten years.

But in fact, The Straight Story is 100 percent Lynch, quintessential Lynch from the first frame to the last. Hell, a real Lynch nut (a characterization I totally cop to - I'll even defend Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) could peg this a Lynch movie even while watching it blindfolded; nobody's movies have ever sounded vaguely like his. What's more, beautiful shots of lonely grain elevators; the totally anti-textbook cutting in a scene where Straight's lawnmower almost speeds into a small-town fire-department demonstration; the way the camera lingers on a character's face for no apparent reason - all of these things mark the movie as irrefutably Lynchian.

Then there's the content: a story of resolve, a story of family, a story that ends on a note of acceptance so quietly sublime that it actually bares comparison to the work of Japanese master director Mizoguchi (Sansho the Bailiff). But that's Lynchian too, in a way; Alvin Straight's journey among the denizens of what's not quite America's great wide open can be seen as the stuff Lynch left out of 1986's Blue Velvet, and The Straight Story may well be his best film since that twisted classic. Richard Farnsworth is stunning as Straight, and Sissy Spacek - in a showier role than usual - as his halting, devoted daughter, gives a performance that resonates as much as any she's delivered in years. The rest of the cast consists mostly of unknowns, but they bring to life bits of eccentric, sometimes damaged Americana in ways that better-known actors probably couldn't. It's clear that Lynch genuinely loves these people; and anyone who thought that his previous characterizations of what Hollywood calls "fly-over country" were condescendingly snotty should go back and reappraise them in the light of this revelatory, wonderful film.


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© Mike Hartmann