They needed pros. They got cons.
Small time Texas criminals Harry Sawyer and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr., have escaped from prison after their transport van has been overturned. Also in the van, and the reason the van got turned over in the first place, is a mean sun of a gun named Bob Marslow. Marslow has grabbed a gun, made his threats and headed out on his own, which is just fine as far as Sawyer and Wayne are concerned. While on the run, Sawyer and Wayne steal an old Winnebago parked in a gas station parking lot. Turns out the vehicle belongs to a gay couple who are beauty pageant consultants. While Wayne is trying to figure out which way north is, they are pulled over outside of a town called Happy. Sawyer and Wayne naturally think the game is up. Turns out, the game is just starting.
The sheriff brings them to the local meeting place where the pair find out that as "Stephen and David" they were on their way to Happy to help orchestrate the "Little Miss Fresh Squeezed Preteen" beauty pageant. The two are even being paid 1,000 dollars for doing the job. After some discussion the two decide to stay put for a while and hide out in Happy. After all, who is going to look for a gay couple in a Winnebago in Happy, Texas? Plus, what better cover could they get to case out and rob the local bank?
This being a comedy, complications arise. Turns out the bank is run by a beautiful local girl named Jo McLintock, who Sawyer quickly finds himself falling in love with. Jo thinks Sawyer AKA Stephen is gay so he makes an easy friend to be with, almost like having a new girlfriend she tells him. The closer Sawyer gets to Jo, the harder he finds it to think about robbing her bank. While Sawyer has his eyes firmly set on Jo, seems Sheriff Chappy Dent has his eyes set on Sawyer. Once Dent thinks "Stephen" and "David" are on the outs he finds the guts to ask Sawyer out on "a proper date."
With Sawyer in charge of the robbery, Wayne has been left to handle the details of the beauty pageant. Much to his surprise he turns out to have great skill in the area. So much skill in fact, that for the first time all of the girls of Happy qualify for the pageant. This leads to an excited session of lovemaking with the school teacher, Ms. Schaefer. Afterwards, trying to explain how all this happened, Wayne tells her that the whole gay thing is, "just like a hobby."
The pageant is about to begin and Sawyer has decided against the robbery. It's at this point where Marslow reenters the scene. He has seen Sawyer casing the bank out and he decides he wants in. The choice he offers them is simple, either die or betray the people and town they have come to care about. All this leads to the obligatory shoot-out and car chase. "Stuff" happens, relationships end and new ones begin. To say any more would spoil the fun.
Happy, Texas is the first movie from the team of Mark Illsley and Ed Stone and it is a real charmer. As written by the pair and directed by Illsley, the movie is one big smile wrapped inside of a laugh.
Everything about the movie feels right. All of the characters are treated with respect and nothing seems out of place. The film moves at a quick pace but everyone is given their moment to shine. At the end of the movie I had the rare feeling of wanting to see more of these people. Happy, Texas 2: Still feeling Gay anyone?
Words and pictures are only as good as the people speaking them in front of the camera and Happy, Texas is blessed with a wonderful cast. As Sawyer, Jeremy Northam (An Ideal Husband, The Winslow Boy) might not be an obvious choice but he is great. He sounds like the real deal and to watch him changing and falling in love was a joy to watch.
Steve Zahn (Out of Sight, You've Got Mail), is hysterical as Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. He is like a comedic tornado that destroys everything in his path but still has energy to spare. His dance number is worth the price of admission alone. Zahn is very well matched by Illeana Douglas (Stir of Echoes, Message In a Bottle) as the school teacher, Ms. Schaefer. She has world class timing and a look for every occasion. They make a great team.
Ally Walker (television's original "Profiler) is Sawyer's love interest Jo and like everyone else in the movie she never resorts to playing a stereotype. Jo is a strong and solid woman whose only problem is having that special something missing in her life. Walker takes what is usually a thankless role and works wonders.
Books could be written on William H. Macy (A Civil Action, Pleasantville, Boogie Nights) and his style of acting. I would submit his work in Happy, Texas as great example. Never overplaying anything, he is so natural and real that when Sawyer crushes Dent's feelings, I wanted to reach out and give his character a hug. Macy finds the humor of his character in such truthful ways that words were almost not needed. It is a masterful performance from one of our generation's great actors.
Paul Dooley, Ron Perlman, Mo Gaffney and M.C. Gainey also give support. It's a veteran cast that understands the material well. They know exactly where the laughs are and how to deliver those laughs in spades.
Disney gives Happy, Texas a great anamorphic transfer that maintains the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of the film. For a low budget film there is a surprising lack of grain in the print. It was in almost pristine condition with no blemishes or scratches present. I found colors to be solid and the picture to have a great depth of detail with almost no softness. Fleshtones looked quite natural with the overall picture having a lovely glow to it.
The only place that Happy, Texas let me down was the sound. It is two-channel Dolby Surround and there were certain parts where the dialogue sounded quite muddled. It could very well be a problem with the source material but I had to raise and lower the volume more than once to catch what had just been said. It was not a major problem, just an occasionally annoying one. Other than that, I found few shortcomings. Sound is rich and full with the films very lively soundtrack coming through loud and clear.
On the extras front, Happy, Texas delivers as well. The number one highlight is a scene specific commentary from Director/Screenwriter Mark Illsley and Screenwriter/Producer Ed Stone. It is a very good audio track. The main feeling I got from listening to the track is both of these guys would be a lot fun over a few beers. The track is funny and informative with no gaps in the discussion.
The disc also has about 18 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary. The deleted scenes are from the original version of the film that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. They are all pretty interesting but in each case I found the re-shot footage to be an improvement over the previous material.
The disc also offers a couple of music videos, a quick little featurette and a pretty amusing interview segment with Illsley and Stone.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I don't have any real complaints about Happy, Texas or it's DVD incarnation. I suppose Disney still overcharges for it's discs, even on-line this disc cost 28 bucks, but the content is certainly there. This is one "Special Edition" that is pretty special.
If you are looking for a constant barrage of jokes and one-liners a la There's Something About Mary, you might find Happy, Texas slow going. The film has laughs but they grow from the characters themselves and don't come cheaply. In this regard Happy, Texas kind of reminds me of Bowfinger. Give the movie time and it more than pays off.
If you think all independent movies are dark places to visit, with no stories to tell but serious ones, well here is proof that such is not always the case. Happy, Texas is one fun little movie. It is the kind of comedy where if you are not laughing out loud, you've got a silly grin on your face. Not a bad way to feel or look for that matter.
There are worse ways to spend a night than watching this movie, so at the very least, Happy, Texas is a solid rental. Although, if you don't mind paying a little more, by all means, pick it up. I've watched it 3 times already and can see myself popping it into the disc player for friends.
Happy, Texas is a great place to visit and everyone there is released from this court.
Disney is thanked for finally starting to put out feature loaded discs on a consistent basis. Discs that actually have the material that is advertised on the cover no less. Now if only they would listen to the court's advice on pricing. I don't have anything else. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track w/Director Mark Illsley and Screenwriter Ed Stone
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