One of the advantages of Disney+ is that some of the company’s lesser known films and cult classics now have the chance to reach a new audience. One of those films, 1999’s The Straight Story, represents the most unlikely collaboration Disney has ever done with a director, with the director in question being David Lynch.
The Straight Story tells the true story of Alvin Straight’s cross-country road trip to visit his estranged brother, who had fallen deathly ill. The catch is that, due to his old age and poor health, Straight lacked a driver’s license so he makes the journey by the only means he had: riding his mower. The film follows Straight on his long journey as he encounters many interesting people while reflecting upon his own long life.
Anyone who is at least a little familiar with David Lynch’s filmography knows that the type of films he makes are far from the kind of movies Disney would approve. Lynch’s films are not only for mature audiences, often featuring a lot of swearing, nudity and violence, but are also heavily complex, experimental and surreal. They typically don’t have a straight forward narrative and rely heavily on inexplicable visuals. Even when his plots are more traditional, Lynch still manages to make the experience unique by having his protagonist interact with a lot of weird side characters with offbeat dialogue and interactions.
Due to this arthouse reputation, it’s kind of shocking that Disney wanted the mind from Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to create a movie for them at all. However, the film he ultimately made is unlike anything David Lynch has done, and that’s saying a lot.
Not to say that The Straight Story is completely absent of Lynch’s signature style, as we still get the typical awkward character exchanges and exaggerated performances that one should expect from his films. Yet, The Straight Story plays its narrative, for lack of a better term, straight. There are no dreamlike sequences nor horror elements featured in this movie, garnering Lynch’s first and only G rated feature. This might come across as a disappointment for fans expecting a true “Lychian” experience, but fortunately the film still manages to be memorable in its own right thanks to having a little thing called SUBTLY.
David Lynch intentionally had the film lack excitement because he’s a very visual director, so the film’s emotions relies more on non-verbal cues and performances. We’re able to understand these characters so well because Lynch takes the time to let them speak through facial expressions, making a rather slow narrative feel very interpersonal. In an unlikely turn of events, this Lynch/Disney collaboration turns out to be one of the most personal entries in his entire filmography
Despite its slowness being an understatement, what pulls it all together is Richard Farnsworth’s Oscar-nominated performance as Alvin Straight. Every single moment Farnsworth is on screen, even when he’s not speaking, you can tell exactly what he’s feeling with a lot of subtle facial cues, ranging from peaceful contentment to somber. He also works great with the characters he meets on the road, as every other actor comes across as a real person with a backstory that Farnsworth shows genuine interest in learning more about. It also makes his performance feels all the more personal, as you can tell Straight has struggled with such interactions throughout his life, so seeing him learn to show investment in others feels very relatable. Lynch always shown a talent for bringing out incredible performances and Richard Farnsworth is definitely up there as one of the best in a Lynch film.
As mentioned earlier, The Straight Story is a very slow paced film, so not a lot of particularly exciting things happen here. Even during his interactions with other characters, there isn’t a lot of dialogue, visually intriguing shots or much of a score. This definitely wouldn’t be accessible for a casual movie audience, or even to a Lynch enthusiast, as “thrilling” isn’t a word to describe The Straight Story in the slightest. However, where the film’s strengths lie in the way its minimalist approach culminates into the final moments.
The ending makes this journey completely worth it, as we truly see through this character’s reflection of his journey and why it was made in the first place. All of this is told through very little dialogue and makes the audience reflect on the trip they just witnessed. The simplicity of how Alan’s goal was achieved feels more complex than the trip itself. The film is all about self-growth in one life’s and reaching that end realizing the importance of every single small interaction no matter how mundane it feels. It just goes to show that even if a film is slow, the ending can make it worthwhile just as a way for characters to reflect on what happened, giving The Straight Story sentimental climax.
Verdict: 4 Out of 5 Stars
The Straight Story is certainly not for everyone. Its slow pace and mundane structure could be a deal breaker for those who are looking for something that’s more typical David Lynch. Yet, those who are willing to watch it can find something with a ton of introspective value and a moving lead performance. The Straight Story is a moving film with a lot of substance to be found through its simplicity, a straightforward tale that really becomes more and more complex upon reflection.