How time flies. It has been several years now since two friends and I created a group on Facebook wherein we listed our 50 favorite films over the course of a few months. I have tried subsequently to watch all of the films my friends chose that I hadn't seen, and with The Straight Story, I am almost completely caught up with the picks of Phil Dellio (still missing Comfort and Joy and 2/3 of the Apu Trilogy). Phil had The Straight Story at #41, and it's worth quoting a bit from his comments on the film:
If it weren’t for three films--well, two films and a TV project--the career of David Lynch would be pretty much without interest for me. I’ll give a pass to The Elephant Man ... I probably need to watch it a second time. So what do I like? On one hand, the two most obvious candidates--Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks--and on the other, the least obvious, which would be this. I can’t think of a more anomalous movie in any-one’s filmography than The Straight Story within Lynch’s. ... I find it as disconnected from Blue Velvet as Neil Young’s Trans was from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
I like this in part because to some extent, it matches my own feelings about David Lynch. Not in the details ... I'm not a fan of Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks ... but in the sense that Lynch interests other people far more than he interests me. My take on Lynch is perhaps best stated in my comments on Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale, which I liked more than I liked Mulholland Dr.: "Others will prefer their voyeuristic trash with a classier tone; they are welcome to go watch David Lynch movies."
I differ most strongly with Phil on The Elephant Man, which I think is far and away Lynch's best movie. But until The Straight Story, I found myself rating every David Lynch movie I saw (other than The Elephant Man) with the cursed 6/10 ... I didn't much like them, but I respected his ability to make films the way he wants to, with no regard for someone like me.
The Straight Story gets its title from the main character, Alvin Straight, on whose life the film is based. But it's also a perfect title for a movie that is indeed told to us in as straightforward a manner as anything Lynch has done. Lynch gets a terrific performance from Richard Farnsworth, who was dying when the film was made (this is his last movie). Alvin Straight's story is odd, no question: he decides to visit a brother who lives some distance away, and makes the journey on a John Deere lawnmower tractor. Along the way, Alvin meets up with various folks, some with odd stories of their own, others just good old solid Americans. Surprisingly, Lynch doesn't try to turn this into another story about the dark hidden secrets of the American psyche. Instead, he seems understanding of how these people live their lives, and there is very little mocking in the film.
It's a slow movie ... well, it's about a man traveling a long distance while riding a lawnmower, which kind of forces a slowness to things. But it never veers towards boredom, mostly because Farnsworth is so good, never seeming bored himself. It's a winning film.
I still think The Elephant Man is the best Lynch movie I've seen, but like Phil, perhaps I need to watch it again. In the meantime, The Straight Story is very good, a rare Lynch film I'd watch again with pleasure. #1000 (I guess something had to be on the bottom) on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.