Directed by: Mark Illsley
Written by: Mark Illsley, Ed Stone, and Rick Montgomery
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, and Illeana
Although I am no stranger to rooting for a good blockbuster, I also
like to put the spotlight on low-budget films that should have had more
of an impact when they were originally released on the big screen. Happy
Texas, a Sundance Film Festival favorite, is one such film. Maybe
its screenings weren't jam-packed because no one really knew what the
film was about, or even that it was out. Or, maybe those who did catch
the trailer wrongly perceived it (unfairly) to be a gay or homophobic
film. Mark Illsley's comedy is fairly unoriginal, predictable at times,
and certainly not perfect. But, it's also a sweet and highly entertaining
film that will satisfy those who are looking for a two-hour diversion.
You've seen this theme played out before: mistaken identity and playing
it as far as one can in a small town where everyone knows your name. Elements
of this played out about ten years ago when Michael J. Fox charmed Julie
Warner in Doc Hollywood, and most recently in the under-appreciated
Mumford. The classic Some Like It Hot also played this premise
for many a laugh, and others will follow in the years to come. Of course,
you know what's going on, but you won't mind it a bit wanting to join
in on the fun for as long as it lasts in a movie that's about as screwball
as Lone Star was serious.
What we've got here is the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello of escaped cons.
Period-piece fixture Jeremy Northam (An Ideal Husband and The
Winslow Boy) sheds his pre-20th century attire to play straight man/con
man Harry Sawyer. Harry's on the run with his partner in crime and the
film's comedy relief: Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Out of Sight player
After stealing a large set of wheels, the pair winds up in Happy, Texas
where they are mistaken for gay beauty pageant consultants expected to
help the little girls of Happy win a heavily promoted talent contest.
As expected, the bumbling duo plays along to keep the pressure off. Wayne
takes the lead in trying to shape up these young future stars while welcoming
the playful advances of their teacher, Ms. Schaefer (veteran Illeana Douglas,
who deserves more attention for her consistently solid work). Meanwhile,
Harry is zeroing in on a golden opportunity to rob the town's bank. Love
interest and an unwelcome intrustion from the past - psycho Bob - complicate
things even further.
Happy Texas works because of the fine work of the established ensemble
cast (particularly Zahn). Everyone was pretty likable and believable in
his or her respective role, and I bought the romantic pairings (quirky
and odd as they were). Not only were the romantic sparks funny, but the
two lead's limited time together onscreen (the movie basically split the
two up into two different, ongoing segments) produced plenty of smiles
if not laughs. It was funny to see the two react when they first find
out who they are mistaken for and just as funny seeing them go through
the motions in trying to turn these adorable young ladies into champions.
This is about the point where Zahn takes over the film as his dopey but
lovable character takes the most unorthodox steps in teaching the girls
discipline and etiquette, among other things.
Did I mention that besides psycho Bob, the federal authorities (led
by a priceless Ron Perlman) are also in hot pursuit Fugitive-style? All
this adds up to some playful mischief, mayhem and a whole lot of fun that
is certainly not meant to offend anyone and is bound to entertain almost