William H. Macy, Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn
Mark Illsley, Ed Stone
In "Happy, Texas", Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam play Wayne and Harry, two escaped convicts who steal an RV and soon discover that the RV was owned by two gay men who travel the state of Texas consulting on beauty pageants. It is outside town that they are pulled over, prepared to be arrested, but instead greeted by Happy's sheriff, Chappy Dent (William H. Macy), with a friendly "Lots of folks are waiting for you." The two gay men had been hired by the city of Happy, Texas to consult on the "Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Preteen Beauty Pageant."
The two men follow along, then decide to stay in Happy when they discover that the bank would be an easy mark AND they've both fallen for women in the town, Jo (Ally Walker) and Ms. Schaefer (Ileana Douglas). Of course, in this sort of film nothing ever goes as planned and Harry soon has to deal with the flirtations of Chappy, a discovered to be gay sheriff.
"Happy, Texas" works beautifully because of its gentleness and its respectful way of dealing with each and every character. Macy is a revelation as Chappy, giving him a depth and tenderness that is nearly heartbreaking. I have often cried and laughed during a film, but with Macy's portrayal of Chappy I often found myself experiencing both emotional extremes simultaneously. It is a performance of simple, magnificent tenderness that truly lights up the screen. The film itself received an Outstanding Film Award from the GLAAD Media awards recognizing its outstanding treatment of gay/lesbian issues.
Along with Macy, Steve Zahn offers one of his most memorable, again tender, performances as the convict with a tender heart for kids who suddenly finds he may, in fact, have skills outside a life of crime. I have long pronounced Zahn as one of today's leading actors with children. His natural presence and chemistry with young people is simply a joy to watch onscreen. I have no idea if he actually likes kids, but onscreen he and the children come to life together. This performance, in particular, is one of great joy and laughter and innocence that had me constantly smiling throughout the film. Zahn won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance here.
As Harry, Jeremy Northam literally pounces into this role as a Texas convict with an energy and focus that is amazing. Considering Northam is primarily known for his British roots and tendency towards more esteemed film roles this performance offered him a chance to show a side of his acting ability that, quite frankly, I didn't believe existed.
The entire ensemble is marvelous, including Ally Walker, Ileana Douglas, Paul Dooley (who plays more mayors than anyone I've ever seen), M.C. Gainey and Ron Perlman.
The film had a modest budget of $1.7 million (amazing when you consider the cast), but production design serves the film well. The film brought in box office receipts alone of $1.9 million, and it's refreshing to see such a unique, entertaining independent film actually become a profitable venture.
Writer/Director Mark Illsley has directed only one other film, 2003's "Bookies", a sad fact for me as he clearly has a solid director's approach and would seem to have a promising future in film.
"Happy, Texas" is the type of film I always have a challenge rating. It is a film I love, a film I watch regularly and a film that makes me laugh each and every time. Can I look at it and see flaws? Yes, I absolutely can. However, in this case, I can't deny the truth. "Happy, Texas" is a film I love and sometimes being happy is the most important thing of all.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic