The Straight Story
My Rating:

This legendary story told in a patient, tender style is bound to be a classic.

Bitable Bytes:
"The Straight Story delivers...!"
"A real-life cross-country adventure!"
"[This film] transcends its director!"
"Has [Farnsworth] gotten an award? He gosh-darn well should!"
"Truly refreshing!"

What to do while watching:
Catch the details.

What to eat while watching:
Or rather, what to smoke while watching: a Swisher Sweet. Go on. Indulge.

I expect a lot of things from a David Lynch film. I expect to see the rural, time-frozen places in America. I know I'm going to see unsophisticated people living below the poverty line who are stuck in their quirky routines. The Straight Story delivers these things.

But I also expect that each quirk is going to be a front for a much deeper, darker problem. The man with a twitch is bound to be an axe-murdering villain. On this score, however, I was gladly disappointed. I got disgusted with Lynch long ago for being so far into his own bleak mind. I liked some of his movies, and others I'd have gladly never seen. Blue Velvet, though brilliantly shot, is not something I'd want to sit through again. Eraserhead, from what some Lynch fans tell me, is worth my giving it another chance. But that's a project I'm certainly not anticipating with joy.

But I digress. With The Straight Story, Lynch finally chooses a story that isn't his own. This film is based on a real-life cross-country adventure undertaken by one Alvin Straight in 1994. Lynch's taking a real story that caught his imagination allows him to treat it with a gentle fascination. For the first time as far as I know, there is tenderness in a David Lynch film. Even the over-hyped Twin Peaks series was more an exercise in practiced strangeness than in any real concern for human characters.

All of the slow, unspecified camera shots that you expect from David Lynch appear in this film. The haunting violin soundtrack is true to form. But apart from these elements, the film far transcends its heretofore monomaniacally egocentric director to tell the tale.

Alvin Straight, embodied by Richard Farnsworth, is in his hard-lived 73rd year. (What Farnsworth does with this role is far beyond acting. Has he gotten an award for this? He gosh-darn well should!) With his hips and eye-sight deteriorating, Alvin is pretty much stuck at home with his daughter Rose, played by Sissy Spacek. She carries off the speech-impaired but loving daughter well enough, but she--and everyone else---is just trimming for Farnsworth.

One day, Alvin gets word that his estranged brother Lyle has had a stroke. The need to make peace with Lyle puts Alvin on the move: he must make it from Iowa to Wisconsin, and he has very few allies, not to mention few faculties. His only motorized vehicle is his tractor lawnmower. So he builds a trailer for it, provisions up, and sets out on the road.

The townspeople of Laurens don't believe he can do it, that crazy, old fool. But our stubborn Alvin, driven by his need to repair his broken family tie, has a picaresque adventure across the middle states. He meets a runaway, a bike marathon, a speeder, a John Deere salesman, a fellow veteran of WWII, and more people on the road. They all respond to his plain determination with kindness and support. One or two encounters, specifically with the bicycle marathoners, seem to exist only to hang Alvin's earthy wisdom upon. In that one scene alone, I remembered I was watching a movie. The rest of time, I was in the realm of sweet transport.

Both the Mrs. and I had teary eyes by the end. We genuinely cared about Alvin. This was very unexpected from a David Lynch film. But it's true. The Straight Story moves slowly and deliberately along. It's truly refreshing not to have my attention jerked though cut-a-second sequences. I also found the G rating a pleasant aspect. My sensibilities were happily addressed directly, not through any irony or intellectualism. Since I'd considered renting Being John Malkovich, and rejected the choice because it seemed too headily hip, this story, told straight, was just what I needed.

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Gooden's Listening to:
One Foot in the Grave by Beck

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