The Straight Story

Director: David Lynch.
Screenplay: John Roach, Mary Sweeney.
Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Everett McGill, Jane Galloway-Heitz, Ed Grennan, Jack Walsh, Bill McCallum, Kevin Farley, John Farley, John Lordan, Leroy Swadley.

“The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young”

Walt Disney and David Lynch are two names that you wouldn’t ordinarily expect to see involved on the same project. Disney is, of course, the leading production brand for family entertainment and Lynch’s work couldn’t be further from that magical and innocent material. However, that’s exactly what we’re looking at with The Straight Story which is a complete change of direction from the usually dark and disturbing Lynch and he proves to his naysayers that he’s entirely able to construct something of a different nature altogether. 

Plot: After hearing that his estranged, older brother has taken seriously ill, 73-year-old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) decides that he’s going to put aside their differences and visit him before it’s too late. Unable to drive a car or take public transport, Alvin buys himself a ride-on lawnmower and begins his long journey over hundreds of miles in the most unconventional way.

Not just in terms of the main characters’ namesake, The Straight Story is exactly what it sounds like; a straight and simply told tale that’s, without doubt, the most accessible film on Lynch’s resumé. Those with a sound knowledge of Lynch will notice that the characters have no nefarious purposes, there’s no metamorphosis, dream logic or hidden metaphors. This is an emotional and heartfelt odyssey about self-reflection, regrets and family connections and there’s nothing to suggest that Lynch isn’t absolutely at ease with lighter material. His film is a beautiful and poignant road trip that’s full of pathos and stunningly captured landscapes.

Despite the simplicity, Lynch still can’t contain his propensity for oddball characters and slightly off-key tones but it entirely works for this material. What’s most strange about this story, though, is not as a result of Lynch’s involvement but because it’s actually based on a remarkable true story. The one thing that will draw reminders to Lynch’s usual work is his love for small town America and the odd inhabitants therein. Although he keeps himself on a leash, he is still able to capture the idiosyncrasies and mannerisms of ordinary people which still adds a (albeit lesser) surrealistic flavour to the film.

Lynch is aided considerably with regular collaborators as well; Freddie Francis’ sublime cinematography captures some stunning images and Angelo Badalamenti’s beautiful score compliments the proceedings. At the heart of the film, however, is a commanding and heartfelt central performance from Richard Farnsworth. Rightly Oscar nominated for his superb work, Farnsworth is the beating heart of this story – a man that has come to terms with himself and the mistakes he’s made in life but still has enough left in his twilight years to right some wrongs. Sadly, Farnsworth’s outstanding performance is tinged with poignancy and sadness itself as the actor died with a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head, shortly after the film’s release. Apparently, he himself, was nearing the end of his life with bone cancer and took the decision to go out on his own terms – much like the character of Alvin Straight.

A wonderful and measured piece of storytelling from David Lynch. For those that can’t handle his darker and more twisted films, then this is one for you. There’s no denying it’s charm and it’s introspective reflection of life and all the challenges that come with it. This really is a pleasant, yet bittersweet journey.

Mark Walker

Trivia: James Coburn, John Hurt, Jack Lemmon and Gregory Peck were offered the lead before Richard Farnsworth took it. Farnsworth was going to turn down the film because he didn’t like the language in Blue Velvet. Only several personal assurances by David Lynch and the other writers that the film would contain no cursing did he agree to do it.

23 Responses to “The Straight Story”

  1. Also one for those who don’t think Lynch is capable of telling a compelling, realistic story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember The Elephant Man being a rather different experience as well but to see the Disney logo on a movie poster with Lynch’s name on it — bizarre! You’ve sold this one to me. Must check it out, very sad about Farnsworth though

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m working my way through all of Lynch again so The Elephant and Dune are the only ones I have left now. It’s been too long since I’ve seen them.

      Definitely give this one a shot though, bud. It’s a lovely little film and just has the right amount of Lynch’s humour throughout it. Farnsworth is superb and it’s very sad that he ended things after this.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice review Mark. This really is a beautiful little film, and even though The Straight Story is a change of pace from something like Lost Highway or Eraserhead, it still shares much of Lynch’s humor and distinct ensemble (albeit in a more family-friendly and accessible way).

    Farnsworth really is quite incredible in this role and as you said his death really affects how you see Alvin.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks man! It’s a lovely little film isn’t it? Lynch’s humour is certainly present here and it works wonders for what is a very strange true story. I actually forgot how good this was until I watched it again recently.

      Farnsworth is outstanding. Very well deserved for a Oscar nom and it’s very sad that he bowed out after it.

      Although, unlike anything Lynch has ever done, it’s proof that he can deliver the goods outwith his usual style.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is very much a Lynch film. But without someone going on a journey into darkness. I hope Criterion puts ths one out in their collection. Now Let’s hope Disney and Lynch reteam for their live action adaptation of Up or The Great Mouse Detective

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a definite Lynchian flavour running through it, Vern. Even though he keeps it light, it’s still suitably odd enough to have his mark on it. I loved it. Such a beautiful little film.


  5. That final long-time-coming encounter between the two brothers at the end chokes me up. Such a wonderful film.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A beautifully nuanced film that treasures the simple things in life. I was genuinely moved by this film and the performance from Richard Farnsworth. It’s so understated yet speaks volumes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A wonderful championing of a forgotten gem, I will have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved this film, Lloyd. It’s a genuine change of direction for Lynch but proof that he can turn his hand to ordinary and simple storytelling. It’s beautiful and Richard Farnsworth is just sublime in a rare lead role.

      Liked by 1 person

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