The marriage of David Lynch & Disney Studios may seem improbable, but for weakly titled & beautifully filmed The Straight Story, the blend of Lynch's eccentricity & Disney's family-safe sweetness works for superior dramatic impact.
It begins as a film of longing, sadness, & beauty. Richard Farnsworth plays Alvin Straight, who is facing rapid physical decline in old age. He can barely walk, but refuses hip surgery. For pride he refuses even to use a walker, so can barely get around with two canes. His daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), stuttering & perhaps a little slow, doesn't quite know how to help him.
One day Alvin announces that he wants to "go on the road again," though he can no longer see well enough to drive & has lost his liscense. Rose is willing to drive him where he needs to go, but he needs to do something deeply personal, & on his own.
Alvin builds himself a trailor-box to hook up to his vintage riding mower, & sets out down the road for a multi-week journey to visit his estranged brother in another state, his brother who has recently had a stroke. He sleeps nights in the box, & roars along on the mower with the blades turned off by day.
When Alvin's quest begins, the film shifts about halfway into comedy as Alvin sets out on his riding mower. Yet it is never complete comedy. When Alvin explains that he has to "do what I have to do" it becomes a glorious adventure, the underlying physical & emotional pain, & Richard Farnsworth's creased & deadpan beauty, keeps any of it from becoming saccharine or undignified.
It's only sad to see Spacek's character gone from the bulk of the film, as she was wonderful in all her scenes. The bulk of the film is how Alvin gets on & who he meets along the way. His tribulations stand as an allegory for all human hope & nobility, & love of family. It is one of the most moving road movies ever filmed.
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