Tag Archives: Richard Farnsworth

The Straight Story (1999, David Lynch)

The Straight Story wants to present its characters as real, but it then exaggerates their reality. They’re better than real. Superior imitations. And it’s the film’s undoing.

Well, and the music. The eschewing of cartoon for caricature and the Angelo Badalamenti score. It is not the music to tell the story of a man born in 1920s Minnesota, who later moves to Iowa at some point and now at seventy-three is driving a riding mower to Wisconsin to see his estranged brother. Badalamenti’s main theme is ostentatious; even if you like it, it’s ostentatious. The movie’s all about how this guy, played by Richard Farnsworth, isn’t ostentatious. How could he be? He gives folksy, somewhat progressive wisdom and always pays his way. He never takes handouts, but he’ll compromise as long as it doesn’t fundamentally break his code. He’s a cowboy, on the steel green horse—well, steel green mule of a John Deere riding mower—he rides.

Straight Story isn’t a character study; its protagonist is never subject, never driving force (no pun intended). Director Lynch and writers John Roach and Mary Sweeney shrug off the idea of Farnsworth’s motivations until the third act when he dumps them in some heartfelt, folksy exposition. Straight Story is based on a true story, yet the film does whatever it can to make its characters seem utterly contained to their scenes. They stop existing when the film, sometimes jarringly, cuts away from them. It’s somewhat appropriate, however, as Sweeney also edited the film. The film has a handful of really rough cuts, not to mention when all of a sudden in the second half it employs frequent fades to black to end scenes. Occasionally the cuts are rough because clearly the actor onscreen didn’t think their scene was over. The movie’s just done showing this good, simple folk being kindly to one another. Point made, time to move on. Though, more often than not—especially in the second half—it’s just cutting to some other good, simple folk being kindly to one another scene.

It’s too bad. There are some occasional really strong moments. There’s a scene where Farnsworth witnesses a car accident and its frantic aftermath. Or when he’s hanging out with fellow old guy Wiley Harker at a bar and they’re having a profound emotional moment talking about World War II. Harker’s monologue is way better than Farnsworth’s and clearly so, which is concerning since Harker’s only in two scenes and Farnsworth is, you know, the movie. But even so, when Lynch and Sweeney bring in a non-diegetic war sounds track, it ruins the actors’ scene. Why would you give the actors this great opportunity then junk it for pedestrian memory sounds. It’s so strange. The Straight Story puts sugar in its own gas tank, time and again.

And then there’s Farnsworth’s daughter, played by Sissy Spacek. She gets a character revelation after her character is basically gone from the movie and it’s just to hammer in how progressive Farnsworth can be compared to, well, the younger generation. Straight Story positions Farnsworth as the world’s greatest grandad, only it’s a secret power and he can only use it on strangers, who hear more about his motivations for the trip than daughter Spacek. Of course, Spacek is—according to Farnsworth—a little slow. Spacek plays the character maybe autistic? Or with a speech impediment. But not slow. Not given the ideas she’s got to talk about in the dialogue she’s got. It’s kind of the most egregious of the film’s problems, just because the movie later uses Spacek just to develop Farnsworth and even then, only in a trite, contrived way. The film never feels less “real” than when Farnsworth is explaining how he’s so real. And manly.

Because he’s a cowboy. He’s a real American hero, which might explain why the movie treats him like an action figure. He moves where the film needs him; never once seems to have agency his own.

Even more distressing is when, in the final scene, a very special guest star outacts the 110 minute sum of Farnsworth’s performance without even speaking.

The film isn’t exactly condescending or patronizing, but it’s got a very definite narrative distance; it displays the events, doesn’t create them; it displays the people, doesn’t give them agency. They don’t develop. At all. And the exposition dumps are always manipulative.

Especially since it’s called The Straight Story.

Farnsworth is okay. It should be the kind of part you can go on and on about, analyzing the performance and whatnot, but you can’t. Because he’s just okay. Partly because Lynch doesn’t have any idea what kind of performance he’s directing. Spacek’s okay too, even if she’s the film’s narrative device doormat. James Cada’s good in one of the supporting roles, which are usually cast based on the actor’s appearance rather than their… acting ability. Or even casting appropriateness.

Good photography from Freddie Francis. Okay direction from Lynch. There are issues. There are peculiar choices when it comes to the ostensible character study stuff. There are weird, frankly silly zoom-ins.

It’s long, its plotting structure stalls, the music is annoying (even after the repeated use of the theme disappears—possibly when those fades to black come in, I wasn’t paying attention)… Straight Story has its sincerities, but never where it needs them.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Lynch; written by John Roach and Mary Sweeney; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Sweeney; music by Angelo Badalamenti; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Neal Edelstein and Sweeney; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Richard Farnsworth (Alvin), Sissy Spacek (Rose), James Cada (Danny), Wiley Harker (Verlyn), Anastasia Webb (Crystal), and Everett McGill (Tom).


Advertisements

Rhinestone (1984, Bob Clark)

With the exception of Dolly Parton, everyone involved with Rhinestone seems nervous. Well, maybe not Richard Farnsworth. He seems impatient, like he can’t wait for his scene to be over. Top-billed Sylvester Stallone spends the first half of the film trying too hard, seems to relax, then finishes the film not trying hard enough. It’s like Stallone resents the stupid stuff he’s got to do but then he’s no good at the serious stuff either. Sure, he’s got terrible dialogue, which he wrote for himself (along with whatever remains of Phil Alden Robinson’s original script), but he’s still not acting well. He’s acting poorly.

When does he act well? During the ten or fifteen minutes when he’s a greased up romantic lead in some weirdly racy, somewhat wholesome perfume commercial with Parton. The film looks different too, like director Clark and cinematographer Timothy Galfas were just pretending to be wholly incompetent and they were really just pacing out this eventual payoff. Sadly, editors Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler don’t improve during this section of the film. They’re bad throughout.

While Parton isn’t good–it’s not possible to be good in Rhinestone–she’s earnest and she’s capable. She takes her job seriously, which is probably why her original songs for the film are good. Rhinestone should, frighteningly, be better. Even with Stallone, it should be better. The movie isn’t Rocky with country music, it’s Stallone doing a “Barbarino” impression with country music. If it were Rocky with country music, it’d be a lot better.

The problem is the tone. Clark wants to take it seriously. He wants to take Stallone as a country western star who dresses in an incredibly lame silver sequined cowboy outfit. Sylvester Stallone as a successful country western star is not possible. It’s just not. More idiotically, the film itself doesn’t take that idea seriously.

There’s one music number I resent myself for liking and Tim Thomerson’s amusing, though not good (he’s nervous but trying to get past it). Parton’s got a lot of presence and she and Stallone actually have what appears to be chemistry, if a lot more platonic than the narrative requires, but it’s not like she makes it worthwhile. She just doesn’t embarrass herself. Everyone else embarrasses themselves at some point or another.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Bob Clark; screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and Sylvester Stallone, based on a story by Robinson; director of photography, Timothy Galfas; edited by Stan Cole and John W. Wheeler; music by Dolly Parton and Mike Post; production designer, Robert F. Boyle; produced by Howard Smith and Marvin Worth; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dolly Parton (Jake), Sylvester Stallone (Nick), Tim Thomerson (Barnett Kale), Richard Farnsworth (Mr. Farris), Steve Peck (Mr. Martinelli), Penny Santon (Mrs. Martinelli) and Ron Leibman (Freddie Ugo).


RELATED

Misery (1990, Rob Reiner)

So back in 1990, ignorant, bigoted book burning fundamentalist Christian psychopath women were screen villains on par with Norman Bates (by some accounts). Now they’re presidential candidates.

Misery actually owes quite a bit, in its third act, to Psycho. Reiner is no Hitchcock and he doesn’t try to be. His success, directing the film, has more to do with actors than with mood. William Goldman’s script does all the thriller stuff itself, which isn’t to say Reiner doesn’t do a fine job… he just isn’t the one responsible for it being so creepy.

See, for all the praise Kathy Bates gets… James Caan holds the movie together. She’s just playing the psycho–a far less sympathetic one than Norman Bates–whereas Caan is playing the victim. Sonny Corleone is scared of her, the audience will be too.

In fact, Caan’s got Misery‘s only sublime moment (and one of Reiner’s best as a director), sort of saving the film at the very end. Or at least making it something special.

Speaking of Psycho… I almost forgot the music. Marc Shaiman’s score owes quite a bit to Herrmann; it’s definitely the most obviously influenced feature.

Misery is pretty unique–remove the context and you’ve basically got Caan graphically beating some woman to death. With the Meathead directing.

Nice cameo from Lauren Bacall, but it’s all about Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen’s bickering, aged Nick and Nora. There was definite spin-off potential for those two.

Far more impressive than I was expecting.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Reiner; screenplay by William Goldman, based on the novel by Stephen King; director of photography, Barry Sonnenfeld; edited by Robert Leighton; music by Marc Shaiman; production designer, Norman Garwood; produced by Reiner and Andrew Scheinman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring James Caan (Paul Sheldon), Kathy Bates (Annie Wilkes), Richard Farnsworth (Buster), Frances Sternhagen (Virginia) and Lauren Bacall (Marcia Sindell).


RELATED