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The Straight Story (21-May-1999)

Director: David Lynch

Writers: John Roach; Mary Sweeney

Music: Angelo Badalamenti

Producers: Neal Edelstein; Mary Sweeney

Keywords: Drama, Road Trip

True story of Alvin Straight, an elderly WWII veteran, who drove a lawnmower 400 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to see his estranged brother who had recently suffered a stroke. Endearing, life-affirming odyssey through America which is a departure for David Lynch, whose sympathies normally lie with the bizarre and perverse.

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NameOccupationBirthDeathKnown for
Richard Farnsworth
1-Sep-1920 6-Oct-2000 Comes a Horseman
Everett McGill
21-Oct-1945   Big Ed from Twin Peaks
Sissy Spacek
25-Dec-1949   Coal Miner's Daughter
Harry Dean Stanton
14-Jul-1926 15-Sep-2017 Bathrobe-clad actor from Repo Man


Review by Walter Frith (posted on 9-Jun-2007)

The man who has brought audiences his very unique directing style with such daring and bizzaro films as 'Eraserhead' (1977), 'The Elephant Man' (not so bizzaro) (1980), 'Blue Velvet' (1986), 'Wild at Heart' (1990), 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)', and 'Lost Highway' (1997) has now decided to embark on a real life subject with docile characters, no insanity contained in his subject matter, and a dose of what it feels like to take your grand parents to the movies in this day and age. A real comfort with safe, tame and extremely likable aspects. Director David Lynch is getting almost no recognition (and that's a shame) for 'The Straight Story', a wonderful and low key film that is the most fondly remembered of its kind since 1983's 'Tender Mercies' which wasn't so much a motion picture as it was a series of still photographs brought to life through the miracle of characterization. That's what 'The Straight Story' looks and feels like. And it shrinks the marvel of the big screen motion picture into a compact memory of finely wrought images and the story of a simple man who really did exist. Based on a true story, in 1994, a 73 year old man named Alvin Straight (who died in 1996), drove his lawn mower some 300 miles from Iowa to Wisconsin to see his brother who has suffered from a stroke and Alvin wants to make peace with him since the two men last spoke because there has been some bad blood between the two of them. The film begins in Alvin's home town in Iowa. Alvin is poverty stricken. He lives in a small run down shack with his simple minded daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek). One day he falls in the kitchen of his home and needs to see the doctor. Alvin suffers a series of physical ailments. He has bad vision. His hips are shot etc., etc. He can't afford treatment and tells the doctor that. Alvin then needs to walk with two canes instead of the doctor recommended walker (he can't afford that either). Upon receiving the news that this brother has had a stroke, Alvin under takes a project that no one (not even the audience) knows about until it completed. He fixes up his John Deere lawn mower and welds a trailer like contraption to the rear that will carry his supplies and provide his shelter, including a place to sleep. His first trek is unsuccessful. He gets a few miles from town but then has to come back. He buys a better lawn mower and then takes off for a bumpy but successful go of it. Alvin has many encounters on his trip. One night after parking for the day and relaxing, Alvin meets a young female runaway and invites her to spend some time with him by his camp fire. He is roasting wieners on a stick and offers the lady one. She asks him if he's afraid to be an old man at night by the wayside with no one around. Alvin tells her that as a war veteran, if he could survive the trenches, he can't be afraid of anything. They strike up a conversation where Alvin does most of the talking and he tells of how his daughter Rose had a tragedy in her life that saw the removal of her children from her home because authorities thought she was a danger to them because of her Forrest Gump/Rain Man personality and acts of the mind. Alvin meets college kids and a group of ordinary, middle aged folks. He is almost killed when he loses control of his lawn mower while rolling down a steep hill. The town's folks find out about his trek to see his sibling and they help Alvin fix his lawn mower, give him lodging and even offer to drive him the rest of the way. Alvin accepts their help except for the part about being driven to his destination. He wants to do that himself. The film has little or no music score. It looks extremely easy to make but that's the deception. This is an extremely difficult film to pull off because the subject matter is so ordinary that unless it is told in a simple fashion it will look like more than it really is. There are no fancy camera tricks, no sharp, quick witted editing flashes, and virtually no technical marvels at all. Richard Farnsworth's Oscar worthy performance is the best thing the film has to offer. While Alvin is something of an enigma to behold, Farnsworth portrays him as a wise, level headed man who never gets angry and while the performance is one track for the most part, it's done with the quality of making those who see the film, want to adopt Alvin as a foster grand parent because he hasn't let life get him down. 'The Straight Story' is just the kind of slapping down many of us need in our homogenized, digitized and computerized worlds of high technology with cell phones, DVD players, fax, e-mails and other gadgets that make society seem artificial as we forget where are roots are. Alvin never lets us forget who we really should be at certain moments in our lives. Extraordinary! Visit FILM FOLLOW-UP by Walter Frith

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