The Straight Story is the antithesis of modern life. Who takes time to stare at the rain, listen to the grain elevator, look at the stars, to appreciate who we are? In 1994, Alvin Straight travels across Iowa on a lawn mower to see his ailing brother. A true story, shot along the actual route, Alvin has a haunting look of inevitability. He knows he’s about to die, but needs one more chance to make amends. These are thoughtful, engaging characters, ones who show kindness to a stranger. Yet, they are as quirky as any in the best of British comedies. If you demand speed, check out Ford v Ferrari or a hundred other shows. This Disney+ offering is for the soul. I give The Straight Story 4.0 Gavels and it receives a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 91% Audience score.
Seventy-three year old Alvin lives with his disabled daughter, Rose, in Laurens, Iowa. With hip and circulation problems, diabetes and emphysema, he can no longer drive. Ten years earlier, he argued with his brother and they haven’t spoken since. Now comes word that his brother, Lyle, suffered a stroke. His daughter doesn’t drive, and there is no bus. How do we go 374 miles to Mount Zion, Wisconsin? Alvin thinks a John Deere mower pulling a tented wagon should do just fine. After all, he fought in the trenches of WWII. Why would he be afraid of Iowa cornfields?
No surprise that Richard Farnsworth received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor after this performance, the oldest ever to receive such a nod. Suffering from cancer and leg paralysis himself, his Alvin Straight is as fine a portrayal as you will ever see. Sissy Spacek is equally compelling in her convincing depiction of Rose. Only limited screen time kept her from a Best Supporting Actress nod.
As Alvin meets folks along the way, he doesn’t hesitate to pass along the wisdom of old age. To a young pregnant runaway, he advises “a warm bed and a hot meal sounds a lot better than a hot dog on a stick with an old geezer travelling on a lawn mower.” When a cyclist asks the worst part of getting old, he replies “rememberin’ when you was young.” Life passes by much slower in The Straight Story, witness the folks below on their lawn chairs watching the fire department practice on an exercise.
The Wall Street Journal gushes “as far as I can see, David Lynch simply spotted a great story and embraced it. So will you.” Slate reads “Lynch has slowed the world down and gotten back in touch with it.” I enjoyed The Straight Story immensely. Usually, I prefer a little more action. Maybe, it was just the day to stop and smell the roses. And, like Alvin and his brother, perhaps Mrs. TMJ and I will sit on the back porch and gaze at the stars tonight.