The Straight Story

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The Straight Story
The Straight Story poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid Lynch
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyFreddie Francis
Edited byMary Sweeney
Music byAngelo Badalamenti
Distributed by
Release dates
  • May 1999 (1999-05) (Cannes)
  • October 15, 1999 (1999-10-15) (United States)
Running time
112 minutes
  • United States
  • United Kingdom
  • France
Budget$10 million
Box office$6.2 million (North America)[3]

The Straight Story is a 1999 biographical road drama film directed by David Lynch. It was edited and produced by Mary Sweeney, Lynch's longtime partner and collaborator, who also co-wrote the script with John E. Roach. It 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 an intellectual disability. When he hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, Alvin makes up his mind to visit him and hopefully make amends before he dies. Because Alvin's legs and eyes are too impaired for him to receive a driver's 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 (8.0 km/h), and sets off on the 240 miles (390 km) journey from Laurens, Iowa, to Mount Zion, Wisconsin.

The Straight Story was released by Buena Vista Pictures (under the Walt Disney Pictures banner[1]) in the United States,[2] and was a critical success, 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.[4] 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.


In Laurens, Iowa, Alvin Straight fails to show up to his regular bar meeting with friends and is eventually found lying on his kitchen floor. His daughter, Rose, takes her reluctant father to see a doctor, who sternly admonishes Alvin to give up tobacco and use a walking frame. Alvin refuses and instead opts to use two canes. Shortly after, Alvin learns that his brother, Lyle, has suffered a stroke. Longing to visit him, but unable to drive, Alvin develops a plan to travel 240 miles to Mount Zion, Wisconsin on his riding lawnmower, towing a small homemade travel-trailer along the way. This stirs doubt and worry in the minds of his family, friends, and neighbors.

Alvin's first attempt fails: after experiencing difficulty starting the old mower's motor, he does not get far before the machine breaks down. Alvin arranges for his mower to be transported back home on a flatbed truck, where he takes out his frustrations on the mower with a shotgun blast. At the John Deere dealership, he purchases a used lawn tractor whose transmission is still intact from 1966. The salesman offers Alvin kind words as his journey resumes.

On the side of the highway, Alvin passes a young female hitchhiker who later approaches his campfire and says that she could not get a ride. In conversation, Alvin deduces that she is pregnant and has run away from home. Alvin tells her about the importance of family by describing a bundle of sticks that is hard to break compared to a single stick. The next day, Alvin emerges from the trailer to find that she has left him a bundle of sticks tied together. Later, a huge group of RAGBRAI cyclists race past him. He arrives at the cyclists' camp and is greeted with applause. That night, he speaks with a pair of friendly cyclists around the campfire about growing old.

The next day, Alvin is troubled by massive trucks passing him. He then interacts with a distraught woman who has hit a deer and is being driven insane by the fact 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 has started to run short on food, cooks and eats the deer. He mounts the antlers on his trailer as a tribute to the deer and the sustenance it provided. 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. A man named Danny helps Alvin get his mower and trailer off the main road. They discover that the mower has transmission problems.

Now beginning to run low on cash, Alvin borrows a cordless phone from Danny – gently refusing an invitation to come indoors – and calls Rose to ask her to send him his Social Security check. He leaves money on the doorstep to pay for his telephone call. Danny offers Alvin a ride the rest of the way to Lyle's, but Alvin declines, stating that he prefers to travel his own way. Verlyn, an elderly war veteran, takes Alvin into town for a drink. Though Alvin does not drink alcohol, he orders a glass of milk, and the two men exchange traumatic stories about their experiences in World War II fighting against the Germans.

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 to help his brother. The twins seem to relate to Alvin's struggle. Alvin crosses the Mississippi River and makes camp in a cemetery. He chats with a Catholic priest who recognizes Lyle's name and is aware of his stroke. The priest says that Lyle did not mention he had a brother. Alvin responds that all he wants is to make peace with Lyle after their falling out ten years prior.

Finally arriving in Mount Zion, Alvin stops at a bar to have a single beer: his first drink in years. He asks the bartender for directions to Lyle's house. Alvin experiences engine trouble just a few miles from Lyle's house and stops in the middle of the road. A large farm tractor driving by stops to help, then leads the way to make sure Alvin gets to his destination. When he arrives, Alvin finds the house dilapidated. He calls for his brother, who appears using a zimmer frame. Using two canes, Alvin makes his way to the door. Lyle invites Alvin to sit down on the porch. Lyle tearfully looks at Alvin's mower-tractor contraption and asks if Alvin had ridden it just to see him. Alvin simply responds, "I did, Lyle." The two men sit together silently and gaze up at the stars.



The Straight Story was independently shot along the actual route taken by Alvin Straight, and all scenes were shot in chronological order in the autumn of 1998.[6] Lynch would later call the film "my most experimental movie".[7]

The Straight Story was acquired by Walt Disney Pictures in the United States after a successful debut at Cannes and was given a G-rating by the MPAA (the only Lynch film to receive such a rating).[2] It is also the only Lynch film for which Lynch himself did not contribute to 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]

During production, Richard Farnsworth was terminally ill with metastatic prostate cancer which had spread to his bones. The paralysis of his legs as shown in the film was real.[8] He took the role out of admiration for Alvin Straight, and astonished his co-workers with his tenacity during production. Farnsworth died by suicide the following year, at the age of 80.[9]


The musical score for The Straight Story was composed by Angelo Badalamenti, continuing a 13-plus year collaboration with Lynch that began with Blue Velvet.[10] A soundtrack album was released on October 12, 1999, by Windham Hill Records.[11]

The Straight Story
The StraigthStory.gif
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedOctober 12, 1999
RecordedAsymmetrical Studio, Hollywood
LabelWindham Hill
ProducerDavid Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti
Angelo Badalamenti chronology
Arlington Road
The Straight Story
The Beach
Professional ratings
Review scores

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"


The Straight Story was critically acclaimed upon its release, with critics lauding Lynch's uncharacteristic subject matter. Entertainment Weekly described it as a "celestial piece of Americana".[15] The Chicago Tribune wrote of the film, "we see something American studio movies usually don't give us: the simple, unsentimentalized beauty of the rural American Midwestern landscape."[16]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 95% based on 105 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "With strong performances and director David Lynch at the helm, The Straight Story steers past sentimental byways on its ambling journey across the American heartland."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 86 out of 100, based on 32 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18] 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".[19][20]

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, the first positive review he had ever given for a film by Lynch. He wrote, "The movie isn't just about the old Alvin Straight's odyssey through the sleepy towns and rural districts of the Midwest, but about the people he finds to listen and care for him."[4]

Awards and honors[edit]

The Straight Story was the recipient of twelve awards and twenty-nine nominations.[citation needed]

The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.[21] Cinematographer Freddie Francis was nominated for the Golden Frog.[22] Richard Farnsworth earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin Straight. [23][24] For 20 years he held the record for the oldest person (at 79) to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar until 2021 when Anthony Hopkins was nominated at age 83. Farnsworth also won the 1999 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor for his performance in the film.


  1. ^ a b "The Straight Story (1999)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c Petrikin, Chris; Dawtrey, Adam (May 10, 1999). "Disney, Lynch go 'Straight'". Variety. Retrieved April 23, 2020.
  3. ^ The Straight Story at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (October 15, 1999). "The Straight Story (1999)". Retrieved February 15, 2016.
  5. ^ Hughes, David (April 30, 2014). The Complete Lynch. Random House. p. 332. ISBN 9780753550335.
  6. ^ Chris DeBack (October 10, 2018). "Hollywood invades Clermont - Rear recalls filming of 'The Straight Story' 20 years ago".
  7. ^ "David Lynch interview Empire November 2001". Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  8. ^ "Richard Farnsworth dies of self-inflicted gunshot wound". The Independent. October 7, 2000. Archived from the original on June 18, 2022. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  9. ^ "OBITUARIES". Variety. 380 (9): 131. October 16, 2000.
  10. ^ Wilson, Sean. "Angelo Badalamenti: The Straight Story". mfiles. Music Files Ltd. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  11. ^ "The Straight Story Soundtrack (1999)". Soundtrack.Net. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
  12. ^ Phares, Heather. "The Straight Story - Angelo Badalamenti". AllMusic. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  13. ^ Q (3/00, p.109) - 3 stars out of 5 - "...Neatly complements David Lynch's images of endless highways and patchwork fields...with some suitably open-plained backing....A useful souvenir of the complete movie experience."
  14. ^ Uncut (1/00, p.104) - 5 stars out of 5 - "...One of those rare pieces of music which freezes time, warms your will and causes you to perceive everything around you as if it's bathed in shafts of dusty sunlight..."
  15. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 15, 1999). "The Straight Story". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  16. ^ Wilmington, Michael (October 15, 1999). "Straight Story Told In Simple, Beautiful Style". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  17. ^ "The Straight Story (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved December 5, 2020.
  18. ^ "The Straight Story". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  19. ^ Deming, Mark. "The Straight Story (1999) | Overview". AllMovie. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  20. ^ Phipps, Keith. "The Straight Story (1999) | Review". AllMovie. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  21. ^ "The Straight Story". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  22. ^ Ellis, David A. (2012). Conversations with Cinematographers. Scarecrow Press. p. 109. ISBN 9780810881266.
  23. ^ Galloway, Doug; Higgins, Bill (October 9, 2000). "Best actor nominee Farnsworth, 80, dies". Variety. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved July 31, 2018.
  24. ^ "Richard Farnsworth, 80, Dies". Washington Post. October 8, 2000. Archived from the original on July 31, 2018. Retrieved July 31, 2018.

External links[edit]