Thursday, March 06, 2008

THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999)

THE STRAIGHT STORY
****
Rating: G
Length: 112 minutes
Director: David Lynch (Mulholland Dr.; Blue Velvet)
Writers: John Roach and Mary Sweeney
Starring: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Harry Dean Stanton, Everett McGill, Anastasia Webb, Kevin Farley, John Farley

It is hard to believe “The Straight Story” is a David Lynch film, but at the same time it’s not. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but fans of his will understand what I mean. For starters it’s rated G, which is shocking on it’s own right. There isn’t a single use of profanity. There is no violence. There are also no puzzles, no hidden meanings, no dwarves speaking in tongues in red, dimly lit rooms. You won’t be calling your friends begging them to see this so they can help explain to you what the hell just happened- you’ll be calling them begging them to watch it because it’s such a wonderful film. The surreal mask that Lynch wears when he sits in his director’s chair is off here. His style, while restrained, is still present, but he lets his heart show for the first time since “The Elephant Man” and dare I say “The Straight Story” is his masterpiece. This is coming from a huge fan of “Mulholland Dr.” and “Blue Velvet” and even “Twin Peaks- Firewalk with Me”. My brain didn’t have to work overtime here- instead it put my heart to work. I have a good friend, whom I won’t name (but he reads this blog), that always tells me he loves a movie that gets to him emotionally. I believe he will truly love this movie. But enough gloating, I have to tell you a little bit about it the movie itself don’t I? Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight- an old, nearly crippled man who lives a quite life in a small Iowa town. He has a mentally challenged daughter named Rose (Sissy Spacek) that he cares for. One evening he hears word that his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) has fallen ill. The two brothers haven’t spoken in twenty years. There’s no real reason, Alvin explains to a curious listener, except maybe they let drinking too much lead to words that hurt too much. Alvin doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he opts to drive a John Deere tractor from his Iowa town to his brother’s town in Wisconsin. It’s a long journey for an old man on a tractor, but don’t scoff at the plot as being ridiculous- it’s based on a true story. Along the way, Alvin meets a variety of different characters and this is where we see the real difference between this David Lynch and the other David Lynch. Compare the Midwestern characters of “Blue Velvet” to the Midwestern characters here. Alvin meets such kind and gentle souls on his trip, but amazingly it never seems forced or sappy. When a concerned stranger (whom provides Alvin his yard to sleep in) offers to drive Alvin the rest of the way- we believe he would actually want to- not just because the script would require his character to offer so. The characters are entertaining and they are more importantly real. The dialogue flows very naturally. There’s an especially humorous scene where Alvin talks two quarreling twin brothers (John and Kevin Farley- Chris Farley’s brothers) into letting him pay less for tractor repairs that is superbly written and played. The cinematography is also amazingly lush and gorgeous. I read a review from a man who lived his whole life in New York City that said he’d never seen a film that made him want to visit the Midwest as much as this one did. It’s up to par with Terrance Malick’s best visual works. Of course, I couldn’t end the review without mentioning Richard Farnsworth’s performance. He committed suicide a year after this film was released (and for which he received an Oscar nomination). You may remember him as the sheriff in “Misery” or a variety of smaller roles ("Spartacus"; "Blazing Saddles"). He gives one of the most heartfelt and honest performances I’ve ever seen. That he lost the Oscar to Kevin Spacey for “American Beauty” is a true travesty. That he lost his life without being able to follow up such a remarkable performance is just as sad. Despite my admiration for Lynch, I waited almost ten years to watch this movie. I wish I would have seen it sooner- not just because of how perfect it is, but also so I could have had the pleasure of recommending it to you sooner.

Download Soundtrack MP3s:
Angelo Badalamenti- Alvin’s Theme
Angelo Badalamenti- Country Waltz

Buy the DVD here
Buy the Soundtrack here

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'd give this one quite a few stars, but you have to be in the mood to watch it. It's like a really good reality TV show that sucks you in. It's realistic, everyone in the movie seems like people you'd run into, they all react as real people would; and even though it's not action packed it absorbs you and you don't even realize time is passing as you look through a window into this man's life as he travels hundreds of miles on his lawn mower. It sounds lame, but seriously, give this one a go.