I'm a firm believer in film critics admitting their biases, especially
when it may not be obvious. Let me start by confessing that; as a
native Texan, I have always had a special place in my heart for
armadillos, a waddling Sherman tank of an animal that looks like a
possum with body armor. Ever since they took to invading my outdoor
chapel service when I was a boy at camp, I've loved those little
In Mark Illsley's HAPPY, TEXAS, written with great glee by the director
and Ed Stone, an armadillo gets some revenge on its most common
predator, the automobile. Forcing a prison vehicle off the road, the
armadillo ends up freeing the film's two heroes, a pair of likable
convicts, Harry Sawyer and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. Jeremy Northam (AN
IDEAL HUSBAND) with dashing charm plays Harry, and Steve Zahn (YOU'VE
GOT MAIL) with zany insanity plays Wayne, a guy with a brain 4 beers shy
of a six-pack.
After escaping into a vast Texas landscape filled by only the occasional
sagebrush, they end up stealing a beat-up RV owned by 2 gay guys, Steven
and David. Harry and Wayne discover that the gay guys are local pageant
producers who advertise their product as "Princess Pageants at Pauper
Prices." Visualizing voluptuous teenagers in skimpy bikinis, they are
happy to be mistaken for the pageant producers by Happy's Sheriff Chappy
Dent. The sheriff escorts them into town, where they have been hired to
polish the local "talent." The entire picture is marvelously cast but
none is better than veteran supporting actor William H. Macy (Academy
Award winner for FARGO) as the in-the-closet gay, Sheriff Dent.
The pageant turns out to be for the title of "Little Miss Squeeze," as
in oranges, and the contestants seem to be from the local kindergarten,
not the high school as Harry and Wayne had assumed. As the pageant's
leader, Ms. Schaefer, Illeana Douglas (GRACE OF MY HEART) tells the guys
that the contestants were so bad last year that even their parents
didn't come to see them. She sure is glad the town ponied up money to
hire professionals like them.
In a marvelously silly bit of physical comedy, Wayne screams at the
girls and tries to show them how to sing and dance. He's a doofus
disaster at first, but, of course, he'll get better, which he manages to
make as prissily fun as when he is bad. Wayne has trouble remembering
the name of the convict (David) he's impersonating so when Harry
introduces himself as Steven, Wayne calls himself "the other one."
Wayne becomes infatuated with Ms. Schaefer but being thought of as gay
slows him down. Similarly, Harry has his eyes set on Josephine "Jo"
McLintock (Ally Walker), as well as the bank that she owns and that he'd
like to rob. She adopts him as her "girlfriend," but some in town begin
to question his sexual preferences. One of Jo's friends tells her that,
"he was looking at you the way a fat man looks at fried food."
One of the best subplots in a wonderful romp of a film concerns the
moves that Chappy puts on Harry. On one date, Chappy takes Harry to gay
cowboy bar. Ordering a steak, Chappy tells the waiter, "I want the
rarest steak you've got -- just dehorn it, wipe its butt and send it
Is HAPPY, TEXAS for everyone? Nope. If you don't feel that you've
gotten your money's worth from a picture unless you can leave the
theater saddened by the gravity of the depressing situations, and if
your favorite films all have unhappy endings, then HAPPY, TEXAS may
leave you with an uncomfortably happy feeling. But for those of us that
could use a little mirth in our lives, the good-spirited HAPPY, TEXAS
with its silly script and adorable antics is just what we need.
HAPPY, TEXAS runs a fast 1:44. It is rated PG-13 for language, sexual
content and some violence and would be fine for kids around 12 and up.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes