It may be odd that The Straight Story, a G-rated Disney family drama, was directed by David Lynch, a filmmaker who has explored brutality and sadism like no one else in films like Blue Velvet. The seemingly mismatched pair of director and genre might be somewhat disorienting for viewers who haven’t seen the picture, but that assumption couldn’t far from the case. The Straight Story is a sweet, loving story from Lynch that’s one of the most satisfying films the director has made. It’s an odyssey about truth, love, and forgiveness, a movie unlike anything Lynch has done before.
Based on a true story, The Straight Story is the tale of Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), a seventy-three year old man living out in the countryside of Iowa with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who takes care of him, despite having a slight mental disability. After discovering that his brother Lyle has had a stroke, Alvin decides to embark a journey all the way out to Mt. Zion in Wisconsin. Alvin is in poor health: his eyesight’s bad and he can’t move without the use of two canes, meaning he’s unable to drive a car, and he’s unwilling for anyone else to take him. Instead, Alvin hitches a small trailer to his lawnmower to take a 300 mile trek to see his brother.
It’s a strange mode of transportation that might easily be used for some cheap laughs, but Lynch celebrates and honors Alvin’s dedication. Like many odyssey movies, The Straight Story isn’t so much about the foreground as it is the background and Alvin’s encounters with other individuals are vital to the film’s success. He meets people like a runaway girl, two bickering repairmen, and a World War II veteran. Despite their differences, all of these people are much like Alvin, looking to repair bonds between families and trying to survive in the harsh world they live in. Alvin offers wisdom given to him by his old age to the people he meets, making peace and new friendships during his journey.
It’s unique that The Straight Story doesn’t have many of the qualities of a David Lynch movie. There’s no violence, profanity, nudity, or heavy surrealism, though the offbeat and eccentric characters that have recurred through Lynch’s filmography is present. In one such moment, Alvin meets a bizarre woman played by Barbara E. Robertson who every week when traveling down the same road home hits a deer. The character provides some comic relief in a film primarily about redemption, but it further shows how emotionally distraught most people are.
The Straight Story is a rather direct movie, almost always having Alvin on camera. What the viewer learns about Alvin is only offered on screen, and soon we learn that Alvin and Lyle had a falling out over ten years ago and now Alvin wants to apologize to his brother. The picture really centers on the human capacity for compassion and kindness.
The picture’s greatest strength is Farnsworth, who delivers an amazing and emotionally driven performance as Alvin. Farnsworth was seventy-nine when he filmed the movie and also had terminal bone cancer leading him to commit suicide the following year. He plays Alvin flawlessly, keeping the character in a sense of realism.
A great movie that gives off a aura of idealism and orality, The Straight Story is a beautiful, majestic film from director David Lynch. It’s a picture that really sticks with you, a personally moving piece of art.