The Straight Story

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The Straight Story
The Straight Story poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lynch
Produced by Pierre Edelman
Neal Edelstein
Michael Polaire
Mary Sweeney
Written by John E. Roach
Mary Sweeney
Starring Richard Farnsworth
Sissy Spacek
Harry Dean Stanton
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Freddie Francis
Edited by Mary Sweeney
Production
company
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • May 21, 1999 (1999-05-21)
Running time
112 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
France
Language English
Budget $10 million
Box office $6,203,044[1]

The Straight Story is a 1999 biographical drama film directed by David Lynch. The film was edited and produced by Mary Sweeney, Lynch's longtime partner and co-worker. She co-wrote the script with John E. Roach. The film is based on the true story of Alvin Straight's 1994 journey across Iowa and Wisconsin on a lawn mower. Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) is an elderly World War II veteran who lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), a kind woman with a mental disability. When he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, Alvin makes up his mind to go visit him and hopefully make amends before he dies. Because Alvin's legs and eyes are too impaired for him to receive a driving license, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty-year-old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, having a maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour,[2] and sets off on the 240 mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin.

The film was a critical success and garnered audience acclaim, although the overall gross proved less than expected. Reviewers praised the intensity of the character performances, particularly the realistic dialogue which film critic Roger Ebert compared to the works of Ernest Hemingway.[3] It received a nomination for the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival and Farnsworth received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Plot[edit]

Alvin Straight has not shown up to his regular bar meeting with his friends. He is eventually found lying on his floor at home, although he insists that he "just needs a bit of help getting up". His daughter Rose takes her reluctant father to see a doctor, who sternly admonishes Alvin to give up tobacco. He also tells Alvin that he should start using a walker. Alvin refuses, and does not tell Rose. Alvin then learns that his brother Lyle has suffered a stroke. Longing to visit him, but unable to drive, Alvin gradually develops a plan to travel to Mount Zion on his "ancient" riding lawn-mower and towing a small homemade travel-trailer, to the consternation of his family and friends.

Alvin's first attempt fails: after experiencing difficulty starting the old mower's motor, he doesn't get far before the machine finally breaks down, and he is forced to flag down a passing bus. Alvin arranges for his mower to be transported back home on a flatbed truck (with him still perched on the mower's seat), where he takes out his frustrations on the mower by blowing up its motor and gas tank with a well-aimed shotgun blast. At the John Deere dealer, he purchases a newer replacement lawn tractor from a salesman (Everett McGill) who is generous but describes Alvin as being a smart man, "until now."

Alvin continues on his quest. He passes a young female hitchhiker who later approaches his campfire and says that she could not get a ride. In conversation, Alvin astutely deduces that she is pregnant (although this is not extremely physically obvious) and has run away from home. He reveals more information about his daughter: one night somebody was watching Rose's children and there was a fire and one of her sons got badly burned; the state then decided that Rose was not competent to look after her children and took them away from her. Alvin tells the hitchhiker about the importance of family by describing a bundle of sticks that is hard to break ("United we stand; divided we fall"). The next day Alvin emerges from the trailer to find that his hitchhiker friend has left him a bundle of sticks tied together, implying that she plans to return home to her own family. He continues with his journey.

Alvin enjoys watching a rainstorm from the shelter of an abandoned farmhouse. The next scene shows Alvin as a huge group of RAGBRAI cyclists race past him. Although the film takes place in September, the original journey was in July, when RAGBRAI actually takes place. He later arrives at the cyclists' camp and he is greeted with applause. He speaks with them about growing old. When he is asked about the worst part of being old, he replies, "remembering when you was young."

The next day, Alvin is troubled by the massive trucks passing him. He then interacts with a distraught woman who has hit a deer, and is being driven to distraction by the fact that she continually hits deer while commuting, no matter how hard she tries to avoid them. She drives away in a tearful huff, and Alvin, who had started to run short of food, cooks and eats the deer, then mounts the antlers above the rear doorway of his trailer as a tribute to the deer and the human sustenance it had provided.

In the next scene, Alvin's brakes fail as he travels down a steep hill; he struggles to maintain control of the speeding tractor and finally manages to bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Some townspeople help get Alvin's mower and trailer off the road. They later discover that the mower also has transmission problems.

Now beginning to run low on cash, Alvin borrows a cordless phone from a homeowner – gently but resolutely refusing an invitation to come indoors – and calls Rose to ask her to send him his Social Security check. He then leaves money on the doorstep to pay for his long-distance telephone call. A local motorist offers Alvin a ride the rest of the way to Lyle's, but Alvin declines, stating that he prefers to travel his own way. An elderly war veteran takes him into town for a drink, and Alvin tells a story about how he is haunted by a memory of accidentally shooting one of his military comrades.

Alvin's tractor is fixed and he is presented with an exorbitant bill by the mechanics, who are twins and are constantly bickering. Alvin successfully negotiates the price down, and explains his mission, which he calls "a hard swallow to [my] pride," but "a brother is a brother." The mechanic twins seem to relate to this, realizing they should make peace.

Later, Alvin camps in a cemetery and chats with a priest. The priest recognizes Lyle's name and is aware of his stroke. The priest says that Lyle did not mention he had a brother. Alvin replies that "neither one of us has had a brother for quite some time." Alvin wants to make peace with Lyle and is emphatic that whatever happened ten years ago does not matter anymore. "I say, 'Amen' to that, brother," the priest replies.

The next obstacle Alvin must overcome is apparent engine trouble, just a few miles from Lyle's house. Alvin stops in the middle of the road, unsure of how to proceed. A large farm tractor driving by then stops to help, but fortunately this time the problem was evidently just a few drops of bad gas, because the lawn-tractor's engine sputters to life again after sitting for a few minutes. The gracious farmer then leads the way on his own tractor, and drives along slowly ahead of Alvin during the final leg of his journey to make sure he gets there okay.

Lyle's house is dilapidated. Using his two canes, Alvin makes his way to the door. He calls for his brother. At first Lyle does not appear and Alvin expresses relief when he does. The two brothers make contact, one with a walker and one with two canes. Lyle invites Alvin to sit down. Lyle looks at Alvin's mower-tractor contraption and asks if Alvin has ridden that thing just to see him. Lyle is moved. The two men sit and look at the stars, as they had done as children.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The Straight Story was independently shot along the actual route taken by Alvin Straight, and all scenes were shot in chronological order. Lynch would later call the film "my most experimental movie."[4]

Unlike his prior films (or any that would follow), The Straight Story was released by Walt Disney Pictures after a successful debut at Cannes, was given a G rating by the MPAA (the only Lynch film to receive such a rating) and is the only Lynch film for which Lynch himself did not have a hand in the screenplay (although it was co-written by his recurring associate, Mary Sweeney). As with many of Lynch's films, there are no chapter markers on the original North American DVD release, because Lynch wants the film to be watched as a whole.[citation needed]

Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with bone cancer during the shooting of the film, which had caused the paralysis of his legs as shown in the film. He actually took the role out of admiration for Alvin Straight, and astonished his co-workers with his tenacity during production. Because of the pain of his disease, Farnsworth committed suicide the following year, at the age of 80.[citation needed]

Reception[edit]

The Straight Story was critically acclaimed upon its release, with critics lauding Lynch's uncharacteristic subject matter. Years after its premiere, it holds a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[5] AllMovie wrote, "David Lynch offers an uncharacteristically straightforward and warmly sentimental approach to his material in this film", calling it "one of his best films".[6][7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Straight Story was the recipient of 12 awards and 29 nominations.[8]

The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[9] Freddie Francis was nominated for the Golden Frog. Richard Farnsworth earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin Straight; the oldest person ever to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar until Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer were both nominated in 2012 at age 82, although Plummer and Von Sydow were nominated in the supporting category, whereas Farnsworth was lead. Plummer also won the award that year, being its oldest recipient.

Soundtrack[edit]

The Straight Story
Soundtrack album by Angelo Badalamenti
Released 12 October 1999
Recorded Asymmetrical Studio, Hollywood
Label Windham Hill
Producer David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti

All music composed and conducted by Angelo Badalamenti.

  1. "Laurens, Iowa"
  2. "Rose's Theme"
  3. "Laurens Walking"
  4. "Sprinkler"
  5. "Alvin's Theme"
  6. "Final Miles"
  7. "Country Waltz"
  8. "Rose's Theme (Variation)"
  9. "Country Theme"
  10. "Crystal"
  11. "Nostalgia"
  12. "Farmland Tour"
  13. "Montage"

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Straight Story at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ The 1966 models have a maximum speed of 6.5 miles per hour (10.5 km/h), according to http://jdtechtalk.com/wp-content/.../1964brochure.pdf,[dead link] or, according to another source, his original was capable of 5 miles per hour (8.0 km/h). (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/99999999/FAMOUSIOWANS/41221018/Straight-Alvin)
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (1999-10-15). "The Straight Story Movie Review (1999)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2013-11-21. 
  4. ^ "David Lynch interview Empire November 2001". davidlynch.de. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  5. ^ "The Straight Story – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  6. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Straight Story (1999) – Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast -AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  7. ^ Phipps, Keith. "The Straight Story (1999) – Review – AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  8. ^ "The Straight Story (1999) – Awards". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: From 15 to 26 may 2013". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 6 August 2012. 

External links[edit]