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    The Straight Story

    Mower power to you

    David Lynch's new G-rated surprise "The Straight Story" is full of modest wisdom from a farmer on a two-state trek by tractor.


    In "The Straight Story," 73-year-old Alvin Straight learns that his brother Lyle, with whom he hasn't exchanged a civil word in almost ten years, has had a stroke. Determined to pay his estranged brother a visit, Alvin drives across Iowa and into Wisconsin on a John Deere riding mower.

    Directed by: David Lynch.
    Written by: David Lynch and John Roach.
    Cast: Richard Farnsworth, Sissy Spacek, Jane Heitz, Everett McGill, Jennifer Edwards, Barbara E. Robertson, John Farley, John Lordan, Harry Dean Stanton.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    That unusual set-up makes for a very interesting road movie as the ailing Alvin (Oscar probable Richard Farnsworth) heads out across America's heartland against the better judgment of his grown daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek).

    For much of the film we're treated to colorful vistas of cornfields stretching far and wide toward the great Mississippi, their symmetric lines fazed occasionally by a lone combine kicking up dust. And Alvin, unfazed by everything around him, dogged and determined like a mangy old cur worrying a bone.

    It would be nice if this amiable, heartfelt little film could be remembered for its simple and straightforward storyline and the power of its performances. After all, if you're going to be watching a septuagenarian trekking cross-country on a lawnmower, engaging those he meets along the way in candid conversation, then whose better company to share than Farnsworth's? Unfortunately, "The Straight Story" is more likely to be talked about as "that G-rated picture David Lynch made for Disney" rather than for the notable contributions of Farnsworth and Spacek, whose husband Jack Fisk is responsible for the distinctive production design.

    Alvin tells a hitchhiker who's running away from home that a warm bed and a roof over one's head sound a lot better than sharing a wiener on a stick with an old geezer who's traveling by lawnmower.  

    Scary storms, road-kill, teenage pregnancy, moving violations, a semi-naked man with liver spots who, later, downs a beer — ask yourself how this movie got a G-rating when all those other, harmless, inoffensive G-rated films were slapped with a "PG." It would seem that the promoting of this film has once again revealed the inconsistency — and the hypocrisy — of the MPAA.

    Calculated marketing ploys aside, "The Straight Story" is a worthwhile investment of your time, although — action fans take note — about as slow-moving as Alvin's curious mode of transportation. The lone traveler seems genuinely surprised when a fleet of cyclists pass him by. "What's the worst thing about getting old?" one of them asks him at camp later that evening. "Remembering what it was like to be young."

    The film is filled with these kinds of observations; none of them particularly awe-inspiring but all of them genuine and from the heart. Like the time Alvin tells a hitchhiker who's running away from home that a warm bed and a roof over one's head sound a lot better than sharing a wiener on a stick with an old geezer who's traveling by lawnmower.

    In that vein, "The Straight Story" concerns itself first and foremost with the strength of family: unlike a single twig, a cluster of sticks cannot be easily broken. It's a simple yet effective metaphor that mirrors the simplicity and effectiveness of the entire film. And we can thank the Motion Picture Association of America for allowing General Audiences to see it.

    OCTOBER 20, 1999

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