The Straight Story

Video Reviews

The Straight Story

D: David Lynch (1999); with Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Everett McGill.

Perhaps the strangest Lynch effort yet. But not because of surreal characters, darkened souls, or horrific mysteries. What Lynch goes for here is a brilliant odyssey across America's heartland using the region's most prized vehicle, a John Deere riding mower. Farnsworth stars as Alvin Straight. He's 73 years old, can barely walk without two canes, and has several regrets in his life. One in particular is his strained relationship with his brother (Stanton). The two haven't spoken in years, so when Alvin discovers his brother has suffered a stroke, he leaves on a mission to mend old fences even if it means riding 240 miles on a lawnmower. His daughter Rose (Spacek, in an outstanding performance) is also somewhat challenged and harbors a few dark memories herself. Nonetheless, her support aids Alvin in preparing for his trip. But the main assistance comes from his trusty riding mower (he won't let anyone drive him and doesn't trust the bus system). Once Straight is on the road, Lynch shows a soothing panorama of Midwestern rural life. From two-lane highways to grain elevators to lush cornfields to beautiful landscapes, the visuals are quite serene. Likewise, the shots of Farnsworth, smoking cigars by fireside and munching on lunchmeat atop the green tractor, are quite telling. Along the way, Alvin meets several people, including runaways, bicyclists, and small-town families, all of whom can learn a thing or two from this grizzled veteran of life's wars. Farnsworth is low-key in areas, but his eyes are the real tool. Playing a man whose strength is at its lowest, the actor's softened gaze speaks volumes about his character's physical and emotional pain. To appreciate The Straight Story requires patience. It's a slow-moving, often redundant narrative. Then again, so is Straight's lonely ride across America. There 's something to be said for Lynch's subtlety and concentration on a sole character rather than an ensemble. At the same time, Farnsworth turns in a gentle yet haunting portrayal of a man whose best years have passed but who still has a long road ahead of him.

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