Screengrab: The Straight Story about an odyssey in old age

Richard Lutz checks out the best movie on the box for this week. 

Mr Trump becomes President Trump on Friday. Expect a roller coaster of chaos as the master of inane disaster takes control.

So, on this day when mis-rule will rule, you can’t ask for a better title for the number one movie this week than The Straight Story (Friday, Film4, 16.25). It’s a small gem by David Lynch, a director best known for bigtime weirdo stories such as Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks.

Lynch (left) relates the true take of a small-town pensioner called Alvin Straight, who decides he must visit his dying brother 250 miles away in the heartlands of the States. He is too old to drive, so he buys an old motorised lawn mower and Mr Straight, in his mid-seventies, drives the straight road to see his ill kin.

Lynch captures the largeness and largesse of human nature in this small movie. You like Alvin Straight, played with quiet gum-chewing dignity by ex stunt man Richard Farnsworth. He is gruff, to the point, sweet and single minded – American to the core: “A man’s gotta do what a lawn mower driver’s gotta do,” the movie seems to say.

Richard Farnsworth

It’s an Odyssey for old age. He meets loads of folks on the straight road as he travels from Iowa to Wisconsin; some help him, some are helped by him, some ignore him.
There are no bad guys, no deceivers, no hucksters. There is just Mr Straight on his John Deere lawn mower, chugging along under wide open skies with the need to share the last living moments with someone who shares his DNA. The stern acerbic brother, by the way, is played by stalwart Harry Dean Stanton.

Farnsworth was nominated for an Oscar for this 1999 movie. And it capped an intriguing life in celluloid. He acted as a stuntman and uncredited extra  going back to The Marx Brothers’ Day at the Races, Gone With the Wind and The Ten Commandments. More modern fare included The Outlaw Josey Wales, Comes a Horseman and The Getaway.

But The Straight Story was his first starring role at the age of 79, and his last. Farnsworth was dying himself when he filmed the role, so ill that he needed help to get on and off the lawn mower. And he was partially paralysed by aging legs. He killed himself with a shotgun a year after the film was made as he saw his powers failing from cancer.

In his last effort, he proved a star. And this movie is a grand testament not only to acting style but also to an indomitable will to keep on going. Just like Alvin Straight.

3 thoughts on “Screengrab: The Straight Story about an odyssey in old age

  1. Love Richard Farnsworth, but “Straight Story” was not his first starring role. It was an old favorite of mine from 1982 “The Grey Fox” – based on the true story of Bill Miner an American stagecoach robber who staged Canada’s first train robbery on September 10, 1904. Farnsworth played Bill Miner in his usual understated Zen manner.

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