Hearing the name David Lynch will probably cause your mind to conjure up bizarre images from some nightmarish films. You wouldn't be wrong, because that really is his bread and butter.
His longtime editor/producer Mary Sweeney co-wrote a screenplay and as a favor, Lynch took a chance and directed it. This didn't cover his usual subject matter, was based on a true story and was distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. This anomaly was known as 'The Straight Story.'
Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) is an older man who lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek). He is not in the best of health and his mobility is limited. When he learns that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) had a stroke, it occurs to Alvin that he should make amends before it is too late. The trouble is that Alvin lives in Iowa while Lyle is in Wisconsin. Because of his poor eyesight, he cannot drive a car. All he has is an old riding mower, so he loads up a trailer and begins his journey.
Along the way, he encounters a number of fellow travelers and residents of small towns. The journey isn't without some bumps, but with any luck, his slow moving vehicle will make it to the destination.
Similar to the vehicle of choice, the story unfolds at a leisurely pace. Unlike most cases, that works very well here because Alvin is limited by both his age and his stubbornness. He could have reached his destination sooner if he had been willing to accept a ride, but he wants to complete this journey his way.
If you are scared off by the G-rating, don't be. It's not as though the story is saccharine and unrealistically sanitized. The people that Alvin encounters are generally helpful mid-western types. What is really at the heart of the film is how Alvin dispenses wisdom to those he meets while also slowly filling the audience in on his own story. The value of family is at the forefront and this message is never preachy or forced. There are also some very sad moments when certain regrets come to light.
You could make the case that Lynch was an appropriate choice here because the story deals with some eccentric characters and strange behavior in sleepy small towns. The difference is that the material isn't arty or non-linear, and the title can't really be a complete coincidence. This is as straightforward as it gets.
Farnsworth is fantastic. This was his final performance and it was absolutely worthy of an Academy Award nomination. There isn't a dull performance to be found in here and Spacek deserves acknowledgment for not overplaying a role that could have been tricky.
Special features include: nothing.
'The Straight Story' offers the rare family-friendly, non-animated movie that practically anyone can enjoy. It might stick out like a sore thumb on Lynch's resume, but it's also one of his best all-around films.
Rated G 112 minutes 1999