The "G" rating has had a tortured history. When it was first introduced in the late '60s, it was awarded to such films as Planet of the Apes, with its bare-buttocked men, its scenes of torture and violence, and its climactic cry of "God damn you all to hell!" Today, in these supposedly more progressive times, something like Apes could never ask for less than a PG-13, as the G rating now belongs almost solely to animated films (and the occasional live action comedy marketed primarily at the kiddies). So here comes David Lynch, one of the most controversial directors alive, whose work is filled with graphic violence, nudity, and disturbing visuals... and his new movie, The Straight Story, gets a G.
This gives you a little insight into how the MPAA ratings system works – in that it doesn't, really. For example, when it was time for me and my producer to get an MPAA rating for my film Foreign Correspondents, our distributors told us to lobby the MPAA for a PG-13, even though the film itself has no foul language, nudity, or anything offensive. It could have easily been PG, but our distros were scared that it might not look like a "serious" enough drama. So we got our PG-13 (for "adult situations" or something like that), which lumps our film in with the boobilicious Titanic. I'm telling you all this because it's clear that Lynch could have done the same with The Straight Story, but he must have found it amusing that he of all people could be eligible for a G rating, so he ran with it.
All that aside, those who fear The Straight Story might be aimed at the under-13 crowd need not worry: every frame of this film is unquestionably in David Lynch's weirdo territory. The director, working off a script by little-known writer John Roach and Lynch's own girlfriend/producer/editor Mary Sweeney, recounts the strange but true tale of Alvin Straight (tenderly portrayed by Richard Farnsworth), an elderly Iowa farmer who decides to visit his stroke-ridden estranged brother in Wisconsin. Problem is, the only vehicle Straight has to get there is a 30-year-old lawn mower. So he gets on that lawn mower for the 240 mile journey and encounters various lost souls along the way, from a teenage runaway to a manic woman who keeps hitting deer on the highway (this scene is classic Lynch).
Some viewers might tire of Farnsworth's folksy advice, which he dishes out to everybody, but this isn't a calculating family movie so much as it is a melancholic examination of regret, death, and loneliness. And with Lynch's superb visual style on full display, this is a great opportunity to take your square parents to a real-live David Lynch film, then brag to your friends that you did.