Ebert and the Movies, Week of Oct. 16, 1999
Setting it Straight Review


Pereira: The Straight Story, directed by David Lynch, and based on actual events. Richard Farnsworth brilliantly plays Alvin Straight, a 73 year old man who learns that his estranged brother has has a stroke. In an effort to set things right, Alvin decided to make the long journey from Iowa to Wisconsin. But he's unable to drive because he's legally blind and relies on two canes to walk. So Alvin prepares his old riding lawnmower to make the trip. Here, Sissy Spacek, who plays Alvin's daughter, tries to talk some sense into her father.

Rose: "You were born when Calvin Coolidge was president of America. You are 73 years old, Dad. And I cannot drive you there."
Alvin: "Rose, darlin', I'm not dead yet."

Pereira: Alvin has several significant encounters. And in each case, in a most endearing way, he passes on his own brand of wisdom. Here, he shares his campfire with a young runaway:

Alvin: "When my kids were real little, I used to play a game with them. I'd give each one of 'em a stick and - one for each one of 'em. Then I'd say, 'You break that.' Of course they could, real easy. Then I'd say, 'Tie them sticks in a bundle and try to break that.' Of course, they couldn't. Then I'd say, 'That bundle - that's family.'"

Pereira: One night while camped in a churchyard, Alvin tells the parish priest the story of how he and his brother drifted apart:

Alvin: "Anger. Vanity. You mix that together with liquor, you've got two brothers that haven't spoken in ten years."

Pereira: Not only is this a wonderful and heartwarming yet simple story, but it is also beautiful to look at. I loved Lynch's depiction of the American heartland, using powerful images of the serenity and vastness of the country's farmland. And the soundtrack by Angelo Badalamenti was both soaring and mournful. This film took me away from the hustle and bustle of of my fast-pased urban life. I highly recommend "The Straight Story."

Ebert: Boy, I do too. And I know what you mean about the American heartland because as he goes on this odyssey, he depends on the kindness of strangers. And I think of that man named Riordan, who lets him camp out in the backyard, the John Deer repairman who has the philosophical talk with him, and the priest and the old bartender who gives him that bottle of Miller Lite and the old, old man at the bar.

Pereira: They were all likeable.

Ebert: Yes. He tells him the story of what happened in the war and this guilt he walks around with. All of these people - this film is just imbued with that kind of feeling and it's so...

Pereira: The thing that I really liked too was that the family, the Straight family, was quite concerned that they were making this story that how - I mean, even having Lynch direct the story would have been questionable enough. But the fact that he did such a beautiful job of showing this man who lived a simple lifestyle but was by no means simple. He had wisdom to share with people. And he just depicted it so beautifully that they can feel proud.

Ebert: And that really comes out in Richard Farnsworth's performance. Here is a man who is absolutely totally genuine and believable in every single second. He could not say a line that you don't believe that he believes. And so that really, I think, is the bedrock of the film.

Pereira: Well, it looks like we both agree on that one.

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