top2.gif - 6.71 K

watermark3.gif - 15.76 K

The Straight Story

Film Review By Jack Nichols

This Disney film's title, natch, causes wonderment. To gays, "straight" means heterosexual. To hippies, it's always meant old-fashioned linear thinking. In this captivating movie, "straight" simply means straightforward. thestraight1.jpg - 16.00 K Richard Farnsworth stars as Alvin Straight in The Straight Story

It also refers to the central character's name: Alvin Straight, seventy-three-years old and played to perfection by 79-year old Richard Farnsworth, a character actor who got his start in Roy Rogers films.

There are several things about this film that set it apart from moribund mainstream movies, especially its appreciation for things usually considered mundane: Midwestern landscapes being among them. The film begins showing a nightime sky thickly filled with stars, crickets chirping happily.

Moviemaker David Lynch, known for his Reagan-era stereotypes and for a preponderance of violence, has, this time around, created a different sort of life approach in The Straight Story.

Related Features from the GayToday Archive:
Review: Waiting for Guffman

Review: Satan Is Real

Review: There's Something About Mary

Related Sites:
The Straight Story: Official Site
GayToday does not endorse related sites.

Here is the true tale of an elderly man, Straight, beset with cataracts, lameness and other infirmities who, because he can't drive a regular car, sits atop a John Deere lawnmower and sets out at 5 mph in 1994 on a 300-mile journey between Laurens, Iowa and Mt. Zion, Wisconsin. Straight is moved to make this journey because his estranged brother has had a stroke and there's no other way he can get to his stricken brother's side.

The Straight Story becomes particularly dazzling because of how it raises a viewer's consciousness about old age and then effectively introduces audiences to an awareness of what is extraordinary in otherwise ordinary environs. Art.

As the old man travels along precarious Midwestern roads, exposed to the elements, dodging trucks, and interacting with everyday people, he becomes strangely heroic. But more importantly, so do the ordinary people he meets along the way. What's most thrilling about this film is the goodness it finds in these ordinary people, willing, in their various ways, to help Straight reach his goal.

While mainstream movies too often portray rural folk as somehow lacking, The Straight Story sees through their commonplace-ness to their inner moral grandeur. As Whitman reflects in his Leaves, "every one of them is immortal." Whitman admits people don't usually see themselves as immortals, but both he and filmmaker, thank goodness, do. "They do not know how immortal (they are)" says the poet, "but I know." So does David Lynch.

thestraight2.jpg - 12.15 K Among those Straight meets on the open road is a pregnant teen fleeing her family. In a pointedly effective statement about family unity, the old man tells her how he taught his own children to value togetherness. Giving them each a singular stick he advised them to "Break it," which they did. Then, he'd get them to try to break a bundle of sticks, tied together. When they proved unable to break the bundle, he'd point to it and say: "That's family." In the morning—when Straight wakes-- the pregnant teen has vanished, but has left behind a bundle of tied sticks.

There's special magic in this film. As this reviewer settled into his seat, contemplating little towns, glorying in fading sunlight over Iowa's flatlands and their interminable rows of corn, the magnificence of rural America came to life, resurrecting due appreciation for those down-to-earth, rock-solid people- strengths that are too often absent from the lives of city folk.

The Straight Story is never pushy. Its climax, therefore, seems to occur as naturally as a sunset. This is one of the great films of 1999.

bannerbot.gif - 8.68 K
© 1997-99 BEI