The Straight Story

The Straight Story (1999) movie poster

(1999) dir. David Lynch
viewed: 10/05/02

G-Rated David Lynch. It is an interesting proposition. It’s even a Disney production. The result is an interesting mixture of Disney family-friendly entertainment and a clearly Lynch-ian interpretation of America.

This film presents a longer, more soulful look at the same small town America that Lynch portrayed as the surface world of his classic Blue Velvet (1986). Wherein Blue Velvet Lynch focused on the “other side” of the homey Americana of an Everytown, USA, and in which the small town world was a facade, his image of small town life that he offers in The Straight Story is a bit more “naturalistic” and is certainly a lot more “Straight”-forward than the narratives of many of his more recent films.

The title of the film, of course, implies this more uncomplicated (read: “straight”) narrative, as well as it’s fact-based origin, the true (read: “straight”) story of a 73 year old Iowa man, Alvin Straight (read: “straight” again), who drives his John Deere riding lawnmower across a couple of states to reach his elderly, infirm and long-estranged brother. For anyone who has most recently seen Mullholland Drive (2001) of Lynch’s films, would easily attest that this style, subject matter, and narrative approach is far less disjointed (read: “not straight”) than his other contemporary films.

The America of The Straight Story is not without its Lynch-ian weirdnesses. I mean, it’s about a man who drives his lawnmower across the country. There is the sort of trippy “mentally-challenged” speak of Sissy Spacek’s character and the “hidden” trauma of the WWII stories that Alvin trades with the other old timer that seem to offer at least hints of the darkness behind the simple facades.

Ultimately, though, this film is not about the weird, dark evils that usually fascinate Lynch. It’s actually quite the almost dewey-eyed tribute to the simple beauty of small town people and rather loving image of the Mid-West’s people and landscapes. At times, it’s almost sickly sweet…but for the most part it feels genuine and believable. Richard Farnsworth is excellent as Alvin Straight. Knowing how ill he was as he filmed this movie, his troubled walking and frailty are all but literal perhaps (I don’t know this for a fact).

Still, it’s a very interesting film, particularly from an autuerial perspective, one that places this film within the broader perspective of Lynch’s world view as played out in his collective work.

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