Happy, Texas

Happy, Texas


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Occasionally an indy film will burst from obscurity. This year it was The Blair Witch Project. Behind that came Happy, Texas. The Sundance Film Festival gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up and important Hollywood shakers auctioned for rights. As a result, the creative team of Mark Illsley and Ed Stone don't have to worry about the mortgage.

What is surprising is how old-fashioned it looks. Ten years ago Neil Jordan was up to the same tricks in We're No Angels, with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn; and Michael Curtiz in '55, with Humphrey Bogart and Peter Ustinov. This time the escaped convicts are mistaken for gay pageant producers, rather than priests. The running joke is that Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr (Steve Zahn) are hot blooded heteros, who fall for the bank manager (Ally Walker) and the school teacher (Illeana Douglas) in sleepy, rednecked Happy.

Harry is a con artist from the East. He's always on the move, on the scam, in this case checking out the bank vault. Wayne has been incarcerated all his life. He doesn't understand the subtleties of conversation and would rather headbutt a stranger than give him the time of day. The good citizens of Happy think they are David and Steven, who have come to train their girls in The Little Miss Fresh Squeezed Pageant.

Is this Frank Capra Goes To Sundance? Almost. The sentiment surely flows. And the message that small town decency rubs off on the hardest nut is in line with the philosophy of the man who made It's A Wonderful Life. What is lacking is originality to give the plot a lift. When the sheriff (William H Macy) comes out of the closet, he does so apologetically, like a man ashamed to show his feelings.

Northam disguises his English accent, although retains his charm. Zahn is incomprehensible, drawling half-digested sentences through the undergrowth of a runaway moustache. When attempting to show the girls what he wants in the way of dance steps, he is manic. If you don't mind going where others have been, Happy, Texas, is the place to bury scepticism and feel better about your neighbours.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Ex-cons get mistaken for beauty pageant pros.
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Read more Happy, Texas reviews:

Nicholas Dawson ***1/2

Director: Mark Illsely

Writer: Mark Illsley, Ed Stone

Starring: Steve Zahn, Jeremy Northam, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, M.C. Gainey, Ron Perlman, Mo Gaffney, Paul Dooley, Jillian Berard

Year: 1999

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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