There are two ways of regarding The Straight Story: As a movie, or as a David Lynch movie.
As the former, it’s a sweet and ruminative odyssey about a crotchety, crippled oldster, Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth), who leaves his devoted daughter (Sissy Spacek) and travels clear across Iowa on his riding mower to visit his ill estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton, in a brief appearance). If, however, one chooses to evaluate this film as the latest work from the director of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, it’s surely one of the most perverse movies ever made. No pustules, no raging cretins are to be found. No boogying dwarves. The cornfields and sunset-tinged landscapes don’t disguise a lurking rot; the people don’t morph into the Other. In the context of Lynch’s oeuvre, this seems far more bizarre than his usual fare.
Is the comfy, G-rated Disneyishness of it all simply Lynch’s capitulation to commercialism and Hollywood’s newfound wholesomeness after a flagging career as freak-out artist? I don’t think so. For one thing, the film seems honestly made; it doesn’t have the coerciveness of schmaltz, in which every emotion is handed to you gift-wrapped. The Straight Story has a winning modesty – it could be the best Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that Hallmark never made. The performances of Farnsworth and Spacek are strong; the bits of local color add up to a pretty palette. Still, Lynch isn’t drawing here on the most livid and voracious aspects of his talent, and while that may not be such a bad thing given the brain-numbing terribleness of much of his recent film work, the results are still somewhat thin. Lynch doesn’t really live in this calendar-art universe of homilies and home truths; perhaps he wishes he did. He’s just a tourist – a visitor paying his respects.