The Straight Story (1999) — A road trip like no other

“You don’t think about getting old when you’re young… you shouldn’t.”

Justin’s rating: Senior citizens, although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose!

Justin’s review: Honest warning up front: This film has the potential to bore you, and when I use the word “bore,” I mean “bore a hole in your skull because at least then something’s happening.” Yet The Straight Story also has the potential to plant a cozy smile on your mug, leaving you with a warm movie experience. Don’t underestimate this half-and-half recommendation; The Straight Story might just be what you need to jar you out of an unending series of meaningless, shallow flicks.

My heart goes out to the elderly sometimes, how bad things seem to pile up on them mercilessly until they have no choice but to just pass on. When asked what is the worst thing about growing old, 73-year old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) replies, “Remembering what it was like being young.” A pressing sense of mortality hits Alvin as he gets a bad doctor’s report and his brother Lyle falls ill to a stroke. As brothers, they’ve been separated in anger for over a decade, and it appears that time is just about to wipe them both out of the picture.

Instead of giving in to grief and self-pity like we would probably do, Alvin opens up his chest of Derring-Do and plans a fairly audacious road trip. Unable to drive and eschewing the bus system, he gasses up his lawn mower, hooks on a trailer, and proceeds to tear across the Midwest to see his estranged bro at about two miles an hour. Speed, this is not.

His journey might be the slowest road trip ever put to film, but also one of the best. You begin to root for Alvin as his can-do spirit overcomes a failing body. It’s apt that the movie is set in September and October, as the beautiful autumn colors of the trees and fields he passes reflect the beauty of a life fully lived. Alvin encounters a number of people, from bike riders to runaways to bickering twins, and it’s such a relief that the movie cliché of Midwestern folks being idiotic hicks is put to rest here. Instead, in an age of selfishness and our fast-paced society, here’s a glimpse of hidden America, in the people that are still kind to strangers.

I was absolutely astounded to watch a movie like this knowing that David Lynch (Lost Highway, Twin Peaks) directed it. Nary a backwards-talking little person nor a convoluted plot is to be found. Sure, there’s still a bit of Lynch’s trademark quirkiness, but the fact that you can follow this movie from beginning to end without a 10-page flow chart makes up for a couple past sins. You’ll also just fall in love with the late Richard Farnsworth, who gives an astounding turn (he was 79 when he filmed this, and was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar). Farnsworth shows at times wisdom, humor, a deep remorse for a dark past, and genuine love over the course of his performance, which makes him the true anti-hero to every Rock-Diesel muscle jockey we see on screen today.

The Straight Story is slow, but so are most road trips in real life. If you’ll think back to many road trips that took seemingly forever, I bet you’ll remember more the interesting things that happened along the way and less the agony of wanting to be at your destination. The story of Alvin Straight is in the journey, and it’s one I think you should share.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s