Wednesday, October 13, 1999

Happy, Texas

Posted By on Wed, Oct 13, 1999 at 12:00 AM

There really is a Happy, Texas, but the community portrayed in Mark Illsley’s directorial debut only exists in the fertile soil of American imaginations. The just plain folks who populate the fictitious Happy are quite content to live in a sleepy small town, but this doesn’t mean they’re small-minded. So what if the two professional beauty pageant consultants they hire happen to be a gay couple?

It’s more important that Happy’s suitably cute and spunky girls finally make it to the statewide Little Miss Squeezed Pageant. No girl from this resourceful, can-do town has ever managed to even qualify as a contestant, and this sad fact hurts the collective civic pride.

Happy, Texas would have been one kind of movie (perhaps a bile-free version of Drop Dead Gorgeous) if David and Steven had actually arrived as planned to coach the girls. But their Winnebago is stolen by the motley duo of Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam), a smooth-talking con man, and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (a truly zany Steve Zahn), a quick-tempered, inept car thief, who have just escaped from a Texas chain gang.

They stumble into Happy, are mistaken for the beauty pageant "experts" and must play along with the hoax. A hopelessly manic Wayne begins prepping the hesitant girls for competition, while Harry scopes out an opportunity to make some quick cash. But co-screenwriters Ed Stone, Phil Reeves and Illsley raise the stakes. In addition to the mistaken-identity farce, the hapless convicts become immersed in a gender-blurring romantic comedy.

Harry furtively woos the town banker (Ally Walker) by being her best "girlfriend" while Happy’s straight-shooting gay sheriff (William H. Macy) earnestly pursues him. Meanwhile, Wayne’s increasing devotion to his young charges melts the icy facade of a prim schoolteacher (Illeana Douglas).

Despite all the misunderstandings, there’s little doubt that a happy ending is in store for Happy’s residents. In this sunny, idyllic locale, plausibility and realism are treated with about as much reverence as armadillo roadkill.

Happy, Texas is an off-road adventure into a Lone Star state of easygoing tolerance, relentless wish fulfillment and heaps of good intentions. Greetings from Fantasyland.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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