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The Straight Story

The Straight Story, 1999

An older man named Alvin (Richard Farnsworth) lives with his adult daughter, Rose (Sissy Spacek). When Alvin learns that his estranged brother, Lyle has had a stroke, he sets out on his riding mower to trek the 370 miles to his brother's home.

I'm not crying, you're crying!

Okay, so most people probably know this film as the G-rated David Lynch film. But don't let the mild rating fool you--there's a lot of depth to this one.

I spent seven years living in Iowa, and this film was like a little piece of nostalgia. The various anecdotes rang some very familiar notes. While I definitely felt the most kinship with the distraught woman having a breakdown after hitting a deer (gesturing at the wide open fields she bellows "Where do they even come from?!?!?!?! And I LOVE DEER!"), it all felt absolutely correct. The disillusioned pregnant teenager, the bickering brothers running tractor repair, the small town people willing to offer accommodation to a stranger.

Farnsworth (who tragically died of suicide after filming this movie, a reaction to a terminal and painful cancer diagnosis), totally own the film as the spirited Alvin. Struggling with lower-body pain, Alvin does everything with a measured but solid sense of determination. You can feel his humor and warmth, and totally understand why others want to help him to succeed.

The film's most compelling sequence, however, comes when Alvin stops at a bar and strikes up a conversation with another old-timer (the scene pictured at the top of this review). The two talk about their time in the second world war, and Alvin relates a painful, harrowing story about one of the actions he took as a sniper. He reflects on the fact that his lost comrades are all still young men in his memory, and that the older he gets, the more years it means they have lost. The conversation is brutal and, again, harrowing. This scene alone more than justifies Farnsworth's Oscar nomination.

All in all this is just a delightful, funny, and genuine film.