Happy, Texas

Directed by Mark Illsley
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, William H. Macy.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some violence.

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 10, 1999

This year's Sundance Film Festival has brought us many gems, including The Blair Witch Project and Run Lola Run. This exposure gives a great boost to independent films, and makes the cinema a more varied and interesting place. What Sundance is best at is introducing new talent, and the latest find is first-time director Mark Illsey.

Three convicts escape from a Texas chain gang: Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. (Steve Zahn), Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam), and Bob Maslow (M. C. Gainey). Bob gets out of the chain, but Wayne and Harry are forced to run off together. They steal an old RV from a gas station, but it breaks down before they can get too far. They break their chains with the jack, but soon the local sheriff, Chappy (William H. Macy), finds them.

Chappy assumes they are the gay couple who were coming to town to put on a pageant for little girls, since that's who the RV belonged to. Now Harry and Wayne must pose as Steven and David, and put on this little show until the heat cools down. Of course, romantic complications ensue between Harry and Jo (Ally Walker), the local banker. She considers him a "girlfriend", but he wants to rob her bank, which becomes a moral dilemma when he falls in love with her. While Harry is busy hatching this scheme, Wayne is left to coach the girls with Miss Schaefer (Illeana Douglas).

The town and the film Happy, Texas are wonderful places visit. I would much rather spend time there than in Mystery, Alaska or Mumford. These simple characters come alive, and create an excellent setting for a farce. The cast is exceptional, especially Macy, who gives his best performance since Fargo. Northam and Zahn make an excellent comic duo. Zahn even won the only acting prize given at Sundance, which may foreshadow an Oscar nod.

The screenplay was written by Illsey, Ed Stone, and Phil Reeves. None of the had ever written one before, but they do a marvelous job. Stone and Reeves have been doing small acting roles, and Illsey's biggest credit to date was as a second unit director for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Somehow, they learned very quickly how to write a good comedy.

So with all this praise, why not four stars? Well, it is somewhat flawed. There are parts that don't move along as well as they should. But, since this is a first effort, it can be overlooked. With a little improvement, Illsey will be making great films. Hey, not everybody is Orson Welles their first time around.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Happy, Texas (1999)

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Happy, Texas (1999) -- VHS
Happy, Texas (1999) -- DVD


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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan