reviewed by Tom-Tom
The film opens with what we’ve seen and have expected from director David Lynch before. An opening screen directed at the starry night sky (Dune), a beautiful if languid score composed by Angelo Baldamenti, (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive), etc.), a clear hi-spec camera panning over a rural town overrun with stray dogs, (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet), and focusing on a small house with a lawn in which the sound of a person collapsing is heard (kinda like the beginning of Blue Velvet). We even get a squeaky voiced girlish woman in the form of Sissy Spacek speaking with a weird tsk typical of Lynch characters although unique in its individual execution. At the center of it all is Richard Farnsworth, to whom this was his final and perhaps greatest labor of love. Personally suffering acute pain throughout the entire filming, we see the grimaces and believe them to be character foibles. Notice, for example the painstaking way his character, Alvin Straight, the film’s main protagonist, gets off his riding lawn mower to painstakingly pick up his cowboy hat. This marks a down point his attempt to journey to another State to visit his brother who, it is revealed, has suffered a stroke.
The preparation leading up the journey is almost Hobbit/Lord of the Rings in scale. Not only Farnsworth but his character Alvin is not in very good shape. After being found sprawled on the floor unable to rise off his back by a concerned fellow barfly (who is more concerned at his pal’s absence from the local watering hole than his actual condition). A doctor tells him the usual “change your ways or die” sermon which is the litany of real and fictional physicians worldwide. His unusual daughter Rose (the aforementioned Sissy Spacek) lists off the reasons why he shouldn’t make the trip pointing out Alvin’s poor eyesight, his untreated diabetes, and his poor back. A man on a mission, Alvin soldiers on arming his handmade jalopy of a cart to be pulled by a “new” John Deere riding mower.
The journey begins anew with Alvin negotiating a “grabber” from one of his drinking buddies who runs the local hardware store in a cute scene filled with hemming and hawing. Along the way, our traveler encounters a hitchhiker with whom he shares his campfire, some wieners, and some bittersweet back story concerning his deceased wife and daughter Rose. The conversations are ordinary without affectation but are somehow more beautiful than poetic prose for it.
The trip isn’t without humor. There are horned cyclists (horned on their helmets that is) and an accident prone hysterical driver. Driving through town leads him to 18 wheeler country making him cognizant of how small he is and how dangerous his journey could become. This is exacerbated by a sharp decline in the road which almost results in disaster. He is helped by kind strangers everywhere, who offer their time, their wives’ brownies, and short ride to a local bar. Richard Farnsworth carries the role well. His bright eyes and grizzled beard are perfectly balanced by his high voice and all are pitch perfect when recounting his war days or family struggles. It is a masterful performance.
The brother waiting for Alvin at the end of his journey is played by the great Harry Dean Stanton, who has aided characters in film as various as Jesus and the Incredible Hulk on their own individual paths to realize their true purpose. I’ll leave you to enjoy what he has in store for our traveling hero. I’ll just say that it is as fulfilling and satisfying an emotional payoff just as we’d hope it would be without necessitating long winded speeches. What a beautiful film.