Straight Story, The

Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 05/09/00 21:07:39

"A Moving Journey"
5 stars (Awesome)

The Straight Story is named for Alvin Straight, who drove his Deere landmower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his brother. The title is also appropriate, because this film - released by Disney, his first with a ‘G’ rating - is a departure for David Lynch, master stylist of the grotesque.

Straight was 73 when he took the trip, setting out at the beginning of autumn and arriving just before winter. Alvin lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), and he decides to take the trip after hearing the news of his brother Lyle’s stroke. He makes an impulsive attempt, then fails, and Lynch seems to be mocking us with this slow start to the movie - if you can’t handle the leisurely pacing now, how will you cope with an interstate journey by lawn mower?

But Lynch soon relaxes you into the rhythm of the movie, and he’s aided in this by a beautiful score by long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, and the cutting of his partner, Mary Sweeney. Sweeney co-wrote the screenplay as well, and I imagine a lot of the people Alvin meets along the way are inventions for the film. Sweeney and co-writer John Roach use each encounter (with a pregnant girl who’s run away from her family, a team of cyclists, a woman who’s car has struck a deer, a priest) to tease out more information about Alvin - why he hasn’t seen Lyle for so long, his attitude to growing older, what he thinks of family, why he makes his odyssey alone.

Everything else we learn from Richard Farnsworth - his eyes, his expression, the way he walks and talks as Alvin. You expect a character like this to be lovable and stubborn, but I was taken back by the fear in Alvin’s expression when he’s struggling
for control of the mower down a steep slope. It’s a performance that builds naturally during the film, as Alvin reveals more about himself.

The images of Lynch and cinematographer Freddie Francis are lyrical. Aerial shots of Alvin passing between fields have a simplicity and natural feel that’s magical. There’s a pleasure here in watching the countryside transformed by the changing
seasons, seeing the sky at night and at all times of the day - something that movies, of all the art forms, can convey best.

There are two key moments in The Straight Story. The ending - which is perfect - and an earlier scene where Alvin sits in a bar with a man he’s just met. They’re a similar age, and they each swap a story from World War II. Lynch has the sense not to show us what they’re remembering in flashback (this story is refreshingly also Straight in a linear sense). Everything comes from the faces of the actors, and it’s enough.

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