Director David Lynch has specialized in shocking, adult-oriented fare, helming such films as Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart. Thus, it is surprising to see his name attached to the wholesome G-rated movie like The Straight Story. But perhaps the most shocking thing about The Straight Story is that the film is perhaps Lynch’s best work yet.
Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) is a stubborn old man, living in the small town of Laurents, Iowa. He’s kept a grudge with his brother Lyle for over ten years…neither man really knows what it was about, but neither has spoken to the other since their bitter argument.
When Alvin learns Lyle has had a stroke, he decides the time has come to patch things up. He has to find a way to visit Lyle, who lives in far away Mt. Zion, Wisconsin. However, he can’t drive, and neither can his daughter, Rose (Sissy Spacek). He refuses to let anyone else drive him, as this is something he must do himself.
Alvin’s unique solution is to ride his lawnmower nearly 400 miles across Iowa, and into Wisconsin. The journey isn’t a quick one… it’s slow and steady, just like Alvin. His adventures on the road, the places he goes, and the people he meets, make this journey one to be savored.
Although this isn’t the archetypical David Lynch film, his fingerprints are definitely all over the project. From the quirkiness of small town life, to the unusual characters Alvin meets, to the bizarre coincidences which happen along the way, all are decidedly Lynchian. However, Lynch’s penchant for weirdness has wisely been toned down for The Straight Story, and never becomes overpowering.
A film like this can rise or fall based on the strength of its lead actor. Lucky for The Straight Story, that actor is Richard Farnsworth. He aptly convey’s Alvin’s stubborn streak, as well as the wisdom he has attained over the years. A lesser actor might have made Alvin seem goofy, but Farnsworth tempers Alvin’s eccentricities with a sense of his strong character, and delivers one of the most fascinating portraits of the year.
Yes, the based-on-a-true-story plot is slightly goofy, and may even seem boring upon first description (an old man rides a lawnmower). Yet, while Alvin’s choices are unusual, we never doubt for a second that that’s the way he’s thinking. The movie isn’t just about Alvin’s interstate trek. The film’s true heart lies with its characters. It’s not just Alvin, but the inhabitants of Laurens, Iowa, and all the people he meets along the way. But that’s not to say one should easily dismiss the trek, as Freddie Francis’ cinematography gorgeously captures America’s heartland.
The Straight Story may not be the typical David Lynch film, but it one of the best. Nice and wholesome, as it may be, The Straight Story is a story worth watching.