“The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young”: ‘The Straight Story’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - January 19, 2018
“The worst part of being old is remembering when you was young”: ‘The Straight Story’ Review

The Straight Story is perhaps the most un-Lynchian film that David Lynch has ever done, but it’s also one of his finest films and a heartwarming adventure that is as lyrical and beautiful as it is deeply moving. Based on the true story of Alvin Straight and produced by Walt Disney Pictures, Lynch’s The Straight Story is that – a simple yet incredibly elegant journey from point A to point B along with all the interesting people and circumstances along the way. One of the fascinating aspects of The Straight Story is how simple and sparse it is but more importantly how deeply affectionate it is towards its main character and his relationship with others. Lynch is known for incorporating surrealism into his work, but in The Straight Story he distances himself from that and instead paints one of the most moving road trip films of the modern era – yeah there is a certain weirdness of seeing Alvin Straight ride his tractor around the American highway but Lynch illustrates this idea with pathos and a light touch of comic sincerity that makes the film delightfully charming.

The plot, as already mentioned, is pretty simple as it has Alvin Straight (an incredibly effective and melancholic Richard Farnsworth) traveling on his tractor from Iowa to Wisconsin upon hearing that his brother (Harry Dean Stanton) suffered a stroke and hopefully repair their broken relationship. Throughout the film, you see the relationship that Straight also has with his daughter (Sissy Spacek) as well as the whole county in which he resides on. Written by John Roach and Mary Sweeney (Lynch’s longtime editor), The Straight Story incorporates wonderfully elegant dialogue that is incredibly effective at showcasing Straight’s relationships with the perfect amount of heart and warmth.

While Lynch is known for very stylish directorial efforts in which he is very playful and inventive with the medium for The Straight Story he decides to let its simplicity guide the film and in doing so creates a very inviting atmosphere to the film. He mostly lets Farnsworth do the heavy lifting and indeed he does his performance as Alvin Straight is something of a revelation; full of innocence and vitality but also a deep reflection on the meaning of life and looking back at triumphs and regrets. It’s a wonderfully nuanced and layered performance that serves as the heart of the story; he is the emotional core of the film and knocks it out of the park with an incredibly emotional, albeit not showy but rather quiet, showcase.

A lot of Lynch regulars (including Dean Stanton) deliver some truly exceptional work in The Straight Story including longtime collaborators like cinematographer Freddie Francis and composer Angelo Badalamenti. Francis’ sweeping vistas of Iowa and the American highway instantly conjure up images of a classic road film like Easy Rider or a modern western, but there’s a lyrical simplicity to his visuals in the film. Badalamenti’s score, instead of the heavy industrial soundscape score like in Mulholland Dr., is instead a sweeping and emotional score that instantly recalls the emotional theme of “Twin Peaks.” It’s a wonderful score that perfectly complements the sense of adventure but also of melancholy surrounding the film.

The Straight Story isn’t just a great David Lynch film it’s a great film in general. Armed with a powerhouse performance by Farnsworth, pitch-perfect directing by Lynch and a poetic script by Sweeney and Roach it’s a film that demands to be seen by more people. With its sweeping vistas and universal themes, The Straight Story is Lynch at his most heartwarming and compassionate.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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