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Blast from the Past: The Straight Story


SLOW RIDE Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawn mower in David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999). - PHOTO COURTESY OF WALT DISNEY PICTURES
  • Photo Courtesy Of Walt Disney Pictures
  • SLOW RIDE Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) travels from Iowa to Wisconsin on a lawn mower in David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999).

When? 1999

What's it rated? G

Where's it available? DVD, Streaming on Amazon

When WWII veteran Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) finds out his estranged brother, Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton), has suffered a stroke, he makes immediate plans to visit him after decades of separation. But for reasons not entirely explained, Alvin refuses to let anyone drive him (as he is not licensed to drive due to impairments).

His daughter, Rose (Sissy Spacek), begs him to take a bus. Instead, Alvin hitches a trailer to his 30-year-old lawn mower, with a maximum speed of 5 miles per hour, and sets off on a 240-mile journey from Iowa to Wisconsin. Oh, by the way—this is based on a true story.

If you interpret The Straight Story's title as a having a double meaning, the more obvious meaning has to with the protagonist's last name of course—Straight. It is his story after all. If there is a second meaning, maybe the title is director David Lynch's way of winking at the audience and saying, "Hey I'm playing this one straight, get it?"

With The Straight Story, Lynch did play it straight so to speak, in the sense that its narrative is linear (unlike Lynch's Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire). Lynch abandoned the labyrinthine motifs he's best known for in order to tell The Straight Story in a simple, straightforward manner.

There isn't a puzzle to solve, nor a clever metaphor to decode, nor a hellish nightmare to wake up from. Even though the film is based on a true story, you'd think Lynch would still find a way to add a bit of his trademark surrealism somewhere (a dream sequence perhaps). But he doesn't and, as much as I love all that jazz, I'm really glad he didn't.

If there is one aspect of the film that is undeniably Lynchian though, it's Angelo Badalamenti's music. The Straight Story's score tugs at your heartstrings from the film's opening credits and refuses to let go until its final scene where (spoiler alert) Alvin is finally reunited with his brother in Wisconsin.

It's interesting to note that out of all the films Lynch has directed, The Straight Story is the only one he didn't write himself (even adaptations like The Elephant Man, Dune, and Wild at Heart were scripted by him). It's also Lynch's only collaboration with Disney. I can only imagine what the marketing meetings were like (brainstorming what the Happy Meal toys would be for example).

The Disney brand and G rating shouldn't be an indication that The Straight Story is a kids movie though, only that it lacks the violence and profanity we're so accustomed to with the majority of Lynch's films. But even if Disney had nothing to do with this project, I highly doubt Lynch would have added a single F-bomb (although there a moments in the film where its usage wouldn't be unrealistic).

Speaking of Disney though, I would love to see a Disneyland ride based on this film. Just picture a slower version of the Radiator Springs Racers with lawnmowers instead of cars and you see an animatronic version of Harry Dean Stanton at the end. (112 min.) Δ


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