B

Straight Story, The1999

Director: David Lynch

Stars: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek

Release Company: Walt Disney Films

MPAA Rating: G

Lynch: The Straight Story

The Straight Story has the look and feel of a foreign film, and I mean this as a compliment. It's a very simple story of an independent old man from the Midwest, who decides that he's going to set out to visit his estranged brother after learning that he is ill.

Richard Farnsworth plays the 73-year-old man Alvin Straight, too blind to drive and too independent to rely on Greyhound. Against common sense advice, he sets off across Iowa on his lawn mower tractor on an odyssey to meet up with his brother in Wisconsin. During the six-week trip, Straight meets up with many regular Midwestern folk along the way, and ends up touching them in some way.

In one sense it's hard to believe that this G-rated film is created by the same director that brought us Blue Velvet, but look again. The film itself has David Lynch's trademark style and sound, and he obviously loves to take on small Midwestern Americana. This time the world is not such a strange and bizarre place, but a good and decent place. With a story that doesn’t call on special effects or rely on a lot of action, some will think it too slow, but most adults will find a lot to enjoy.

The Straight Story has a lyrical quality about it holds interest throughout, whether Farnsworth is telling an involved homespun tale to obliquely counsel a runaway teen or telling a simple homily to bring a smile to a new friend. There’s a very strong scene in a bar where Farnsworth recalls a painful memory that will bring out the handkerchiefs, but mostly Lynch explores what is good and decent about America’s heartland very simply and beautifully. There are moments that clearly demonstrate that the most powerful thoughts and the most profound feelings can be expressed best with silence.

Farnsworth was justly rewarded with an Oscar nomination, and many can claim that he was robbed of the top prize despite the fine acting turned in by Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. I’m deliberately leaving out Sissy Spacek’s acting performance here as Straight’s mildly retarded daughter—she’s not in the movie that much, and she’s done far better work in previous films. With its intimacy and emphasis on character, the DVD of this farewell piece to Richard Farnsworth plays well on the small screen—even better than it did on the large screen.

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