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Perhaps more than many films, this one is not for everyone. For some
folks the idea of slowing down, reflecting and allowing things to
happen in their own time is a good description of their personal hell.
For others an approach like this speaks to some deep part of themselves
they know exists, some part they long for contact with.
I suppose it's a function of where I am in my own life these days, but I count myself in the camp of the latter group. I found the meditative pace of this film almost hypnotic, gently guiding me into some realm almost mythological. This is indeed a journey story, a rich portrayal of the distance many of us must travel if we are to come full circle at the end of our days.
Much as been written of Mr Farnsworth's presentation of Alvin Straight, though I'm not sure there are words to express the exquisite balance of bemused sadness and wise innocence he conjured for us. Knowing now that he was indeed coming to terms with his own mortality as he sat on that tractor seat makes me wish I had had the opportunity to spend time with him before his departure. I hope he had a small glimmer of the satisfaction and truth he had brought to so many people, not just for "acting" but for sharing his absolute humanity with such brutal honesty.
Given the realities of production economics, I'm not sure full credit has been given Mr Lynch for the courage he showed in allowing the story to develop so slowly. An outsider to film production, I nonetheless understand there are few areas of modern life where the expression "time is money" is so accurately descriptive. Going deep into our hearts is not an adventure that can be rushed, and to his credit Mr Lynch seems to have understood that he was not simply telling a story--he was inviting his viewers to spend some time with their own mortality. No simple task, that.
If you'd like to experience the power of film to take introduce you to some precious part of yourself, you could do worse than spending a couple of hours with The Straight Story. And then giving yourself some time for the next little while simply listening to its echoes in the small hours of the night.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went into The Straight Story expecting a sad/happy type drama with nice
direction and some good acting. These I got. What I wasn't expecting was
an allegory for the trials of human existence. Leave it to Lynch to take
simple story about a 300 mile trip on a lawnmower and turn it into a
microcosm for the human condition.
If you didn't notice, watch it again, paying attention to the ages of the people Alvin meets, the terrain he's driving through, the reactions people give him, the kinds of discussions he has (one of the first is about pregnancy and children, one of the last is outside of a cemetery). The last road he drives down is particulary haunting in this context, as it narrows and his fear and nervousness mount. The last mechanical failure could be seen as a death, and the miraculous rebirth of his engine relating to an afterlife, in which he achieves the desired reunion.
I only hope some of the people who branded this as a slow sappy melodrama take the time to watch with a more holistic attention.
A beautiful and very emotional "Harry and Tonto"-styled movie experience as Oscar-nominee Richard Farnsworth (playing the real-life Alvin Straight) decides to travel on his old riding John Deere mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to see his ailing brother (Harry Dean Stanton) because his driver's license has been revoked, he doesn't like public transportation and he has no one else to drive him. The two brothers have not been on speaking terms for many years and now the clock is literally ticking on one last chance for them to see one another and hopefully make amends for past mistakes. Sissy Spacek gives one of her finest performances as Farnsworth's slightly mentally retarded daughter and the supporting players are all real and heartfelt caricatures of America's heartland. Outstanding film-maker David Lynch (to me the finest living American director, along with Martin Scorsese) goes totally out-of-character with a 180-degree turn from whacked triumphs like "The Elephant Man", "Blue Velvet", "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" and "Mulholland Dr.". He quietly and methodically creates a G-rated family film that has deep messages for people of all ages and backgrounds. He paints a picture of America where the old ways of life are still the most important. Farnsworth (who is a total revelation) was in excruciating pain throughout filming due to terminal cancer and terrible arthritis. Notice he stands very little in the movie and he is almost always filmed from the waist up. Sadly this would be his final performance as he committed suicide shortly after his Oscar nod. He did become the oldest nominee ever in the Best Actor category, but really that will become trivial as time passes and his role will be the thing that shines brightly forever. Truly a legacy production for all involved. 5 stars out of 5.
This is not a movie for fans of the usual eerie Lynch stuff. Rather, it's
for those who either appreciate a good story, or have grown tired of the
run-of-the-mill stuff with overt sentimentalism and Oprah-ish "This is
a wonderful movie! You must see it!"-semantics (tho' she IS right, for
The story unfolds flawlessly, and we are taken along a journey that, I believe, most of us will come to recognize at some time. A compassionate, existentialist journey where we make amends för our past when approaching ourt inevitable demise.
Acting is without faults, cinematography likewise (occasionally quite brilliant!), and the dialogue leaves out just enough for the viewer to grasp the details od the story.
A warm movie. Not excessively sentimental.
I have always been a fan of David Lynch and with this film Lynch proved to
critics that he has the talent, style, and artistic integrity to make films
outside of the surreal aura that he's become known for in the past decade.
As much as the film is G-rated, it's pure Lynch in style, pacing, and tone.
The film moves at a masterfully hypnotic pace and is filled with scenes of
genuine emotion and power.
The cinematography is terrific, as is to be expected from a Lynch film, and the transitional montage sequences are breathtaking. It's also very refreshing to see a film where the characters are all friendly, kindhearted folk and not unmotivated characters that are clearly labeled as being either "good" or "evil".
Richard Farnsworth turns in a beautiful performance as do the rest of the cast, most notably Sissy Spacek in an endearing performance as his daugher, and Harry Dean Stanton in a small but infinitely crucial role.
With this film, David Lynch proved to critics that he could make a powerful moving motion picture just like he did in the 80's with 'Blue Velvet' and 'The Elephant Man'. Critics seemed to lose faith in the past decade after he produced such surreal films as 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me' and 'Lost Highway' but with this film he showed that there was method to FWWM and LH, and it looks as if critics finally caught on with his recent film 'Mulholland Drive', considering the high praise it's received and the Oscar nomination for Lynch.
'Straight Story' is to me one of the most moving motion pictures I've ever seen. It's a loving story about family, friendship, and the kindness of strangers. I would highly recommend it.
"A truly nice story with a moral about brotherly love" describes this
odd David Lynch film. This was especially "odd" because it wasn't the
kind of film Lynch had been putting out in the last 15 -20 years. Those
were dark and shocking films (Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Mulholland
Drive) and this is the opposite. I know it disappointed a lot of his
fans. Others were delighted by it. Count me as one of the latter, and I
own all three of those "dark" films, too.
This was another supposed-true life story, here detailing an elderly man's trip in a seated lawnmower from western Iowa all the way to Wisconsin to see his ailing brother who he hasn't talked to in years but wants to see before the latter dies. Well, I guess that premise - an old man driving a lawn mower 400 miles - still makes this an "odd" film of sorts, so Lynch stays in character with that!
Richard Farnsworth plays the title role. He is the type of guy, face-wise, voice-wise, low-key personality-wise, that just about everyone likes. The wrinkles on his face tell many a story. It was so sad to hear what happened to him in real life a year after this film was released.
The first 25 minutes of this film isn't much, and not always pleasant as it shows the main character's adult and mentally-challenged child (Sissy Spacek) and her tragic past, but once Alvin Straight (Farnsworth) begins his trip, the story picks up. I played this for several friends and they thought the film NEVER picked up, but I am more generous with it. I think it's a hidden gem. To them, it was a sleeping pill.
I found his trip pretty fascinating but you have to realize in advance this is NOT going to be a suspenseful Lynch crime story. It IS slow and if that's okay with you, you might like this. Charm enters the picture in some of people Alvin meets along the way, such as a wayward young girl running away and some nice town folks who help the old man out when he gets in trouble. (Henry Cada as "Daniel Riordan, is a standout in that regard.) Harry Dean Stanton gets third billing, but that's a joke: he's only in the final few minutes of the movie!
The Iowa scenery is pleasant. I lived there for several years and can attest to the rolling hills and the rich soil. It's a nice state with nice people....like this movie.
The Straight Story is a multilevel exploration of the goodness and beauty of America. At one level a slow walk through the heartland, it's kind inhabitants, and amber grain, at another level about growing old and remembering what is important(and actively forgetting what isn't). David Lynch gives us time in this movie and helps me to remember that so much can be said with silence. A remarkable movie that will rest gently with me for some time to come.
Whenever I hear a movie being touted because it has no sex, violence, bad
language, special effects, and so on, my b.s. detector goes off. Usually, a
movie like that is sentimental hogwash which panders to people who don't
want anything to surprise them, but to affirm how superior they are to us
craven folk. So when David Lynch's THE STRAIGHT STORY began getting those
kinds of reviews, I was apprehensive, especially since I was not a fan of
his other "uplifting" story, THE ELEPHANT MAN. For all the stunning images
and the good acting in that film, it seemed more interested in preaching to
us than inspiring us.
I needn't have worried. THE STRAIGHT STORY is an honest movie rather than a saccharine one. Most of that is due to the fact that Lynch and writers John Roach and Mary Sweeney tell it straight and simple for the most part. There are a couple of homilies by Straight I could have done without, and the shots of grain being harvested are repeated a little too much, but those are only quibbles. There's no heavy-handed message, no sentimental strings to jerk our emotions, and no condescension towards us and its characters. Instead, they depend on the story to build its own power, and it does, so by the final scene, we are genuinely moved.
Of course, casting Richard Farnsworth adds realism to the part. He really is someone who looks like he's lived through a lot but still perseveres, and except for those homilies, the desire he has to get back together with his brother doesn't seem overly sentimental, because you can sense here is someone who's lived too long and seen too much to be driven by anger for long. And he knows his time is running out, so he wants to make some peace, not only with his brother, but with his life. Sissy Spacek also does fine, unmannered work as Straight's daughter. And although I am a city and suburban boy, the Iowa and Wisconsin landscape are beautifully shot, making me want at least to visit some day.
It takes patience to get through David Lynch's eccentric, but-- for a change-- life-affirming chronicle of Alvin Straight's journey, but stick with it. Though it moves as slow as Straight's John Deere, when he meets the kind strangers along his pilgrimage we learn much about the isolation of aging, the painful regrets and secrets, and ultimately the power of family and reconciliation. Richard Farnsworth caps his career with the year's most genuine performance, sad and poetic, flinty and caring. And Sissy Spacek matches him as his "slow" daughter Rose who pines over her own private loss while caring for dad. Rarely has a modern film preached so positively about family.
After seeing this film I feel like I know just a little bit more about the USA. David Lynch is synonymous with shock value and weird for weirdness sake, and indeed these elements are not missing from The Straight Story. However it is in a light that I have not witnessed from Lynch before. We begin with a simple family living a quiet life but end up with an array of absurdly interesting characters with depth in their lives that cannot be apparent from their introduction. Especially moving was the bar scene with two WWII veterans discussing the events of fifty years ago and how it still affected their current lives and emotions. If you are looking for Wild at Heart or Dune, don't look here. But if you are looking for real people with real stories this is the film for you.
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