(David Lynch, USA, 1999) 110 minutes


Director: David Lynch
Producer: Mary Sweeney, Neal Edelstein
Screenplay: Joan Roach, Mary Sweeney
Photography: Freddie Francis
Editor: Mary Sweeney
Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Richard Farnsworth (Alvin Straight)
Sissy Spacek (Rose Straight)
Harry Dean Stanton (Lyle Straight)
Everett McGill (John Deere dealer)
John Farley (Thorvald Olsen)

Reviews and notes

All the usual elements are present and correct at the start: the mock-innocent lilt of an Angelo Badalamenti score; a threateningly bland vista of one-storey clapboard houses and trimmed gardens; the mildly grotesque figure of a plump, recumbent woman sunning herself with a reflector while gobbling unappetising foodstuffs; a chillingly slow, predatory camera move in towards the house on the left; a sudden thumping noise from deep within. Any minute now, you expect David Lynch to bring on the severed genitals, the dwarves who talk Atlantean, the psychopath who injects himself in the pineal gland while crooning hits from Broadway shows of the 2Os. Something like that, anyway.

Well, forget it. Behind the eerily normal and wholesome facade of Laurens, Iowa, are eerily normal and wholesome folks living ordinary lives. If you sit through THE STRAIGHT STORY waiting for Lynch to cut the cornpone and turn weird and ugly, then you will pass 111 minutes in vain, for the film is pretty much as good as its punning title promises. Its narrative has digressions, but not a single kink.

To be sure, there are a few sequences showing Lynch in a more familiar vein, such as Alvin's encounter with a woman who has inadvertently become a serial 'bambicide' ("Every week I plough into at least one deer - and I love deer!"), or his dispute with the identical-twin mechanics who spend more time sniping at each other than tinkering with engines. And the film sometimes sounds as well as looks like a typical Lynch product: when Alvin and another old-timer sit at a quiet bar recalling the guilty horror of their war service, the air gradually becomes filled with the crash and wail of heavy artillery. On the whole, though, this is a film made by David Lynch the sometime Eagle Scout from Missoula, Montana, not David Lynch the inspired sicko behind Blue Velvet and Eraserhead.

Grant this disconcerting limitation, and there's a lot to admire about the film, from Freddie Francis' cinematography (it's hard to do much new with sweeping fields of Iowan corn, but Francis manages it: some of the aerial shots render these growths as burnished tweed) to the impeccable and moving tact of the final reunion between the two brothers. Harry Dean Stanton's appearance as Lyle is as haunting as it is brief, though the film's richest performance belongs to Sissy Spacek as Alvin's "simple" daughter Rose who, with her speech impediment and habit of building bird-houses, initially seems like a refugee from the Lynch carnival but gains in gravity with every scene. THE STRAIGHT STORY also has the best crane-shot joke in years: the camera catches Alvin's puttering progress from behind, rises into the sky with epic majesty, then gracefully sweeps down again - to reveal Alvin, about four feet further down the highway.
-Kevin Jackson, Sight and Sound, December 1999.

Weblink: Review by Roger Ebert

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