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The Straight Story

Despite the fact that The Straight Story is a G-rated film released by Disney under their own Walt Disney banner (a branding normally reserved for animated features), one suspects that nobody could have pulled the film off as successfully as David Lynch. Yes, that David Lynch. The godfather of American independent film may have earned a reputation for stylized violence, kinky sex, and grotesque human mutation (or dismemberment), but a good deal of his work contains a simultaneous undercurrent of idyllic Americana, an almost loving take on ordinary small-town folk, and the lack of sophistication (or pretentiousness) that makes them so definitively Lynchian. Blue Velvet, perhaps the best film of the 1980s, is about a drug-dealing kidnapper and the voyeuristic thrill-seeker who spies on him, but it wouldn't have nearly as much impact if it all didn't take place in the fictional Lumberton, with its modest homes, friendly neighbors, and perfectly groomed lawns. Lynch wasn't deriding this milieu — he actually has a great affection for it, and that affection is what elevates The Straight Story beyond a routine Hallmark Hall of Fame tearjerker. Based on real events, Richard Farnsworth stars as Alvin Straight, who, upon learning that his estranged brother has suffered a stroke, travels on a John Deere riding mower from his Kansas town to his brother's homestead in Wisconsin. Straight's real-life journey was something of a media sensation when it happened, but Lynch avoids this aspect of the tale altogether, instead viewing Straight as a solitary traveler on a Ulysses-like mission, and in every instance he underplays a lot heart-wrenching material. On the surface Straight is a simple, proud man, but his many years have given him a wealth of experiences, and just as much wisdom. Among the most moving moments are Straight's recollection of his mentally disabled daughter (Sissy Spacek) and how she lost custody of her four children after a house fire, and his days as a sniper during World War II, where he had to bear the burden of a tragedy he could share with nobody. Farnsworth came out of semi-retirement to star in The Straight Story, and it would be his last film before he succumbed to the pain of terminal cancer in 2000, but not before he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. And with such a solid performance to build on, Lynch fills much of his film with loving panoramas of the American midwest, ranging from cornfields to meandering highways to the open sky above. Disney's DVD edition of The Straight Story offers a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), with audio in DD 5.1. The only extra feature is the theatrical trailer, and (unusual for DVD) there is no chapter selection, in accordance with Lynch's wishes.

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