Make your own free website on

'Happy, Texas': Two Unlikely Candidates to Win Mr. Congeniality
The New York Times, October 1, 1999, Stephen Holden

If "Happy, Texas," a risk-free satire that picked up some positive buzz at this year's Sundance Film Festival, catches the public's fancy, it will be because the nonsensical story of a pair of crooks ducking the law in a small Texas town is so soft-hearted it wouldn't hurt a fly. Almost everybody in this not-so-funny comedy is giddy and cuddlesome with a gosh-oh-gee enthusiasm that is at first engaging but quickly becomes a sign of a desperation to be liked.

In portraying itinerant fishes out of water with a twist of sexual ambiguity, the movie belongs roughly to the same school of comedy as "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" and "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar."

But "Happy, Texas" lacks the audacity and pathos of "Priscilla" and the funky drag humor of "Wong." In addressing attitudes toward homosexuality in rural Texas, the movie pretends that rabid gay-bashing doesn't exist in the area. And one scene, set in a country-and-western bar packed with male couples strutting the Texas two-step, suggests that the region has a booming gay culture. The movie's portrayal of a children's beauty pageant, a juicy target for satire in the age of JonBenet Ramsey, is more celebratory than mocking.

It all begins when Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn), two convicts on the lam, go through the contents of the Winnebago they have just stolen and discover that its owners are a gay male couple who travel around the country producing pageants. Stopped by the sheriff, Chappy Dent (William H. Macy), the pair are shocked to find that instead of being arrested, they are escorted to Happy, Texas, and welcomed as the potential miracle workers who can whip the Little Miss Squeezed Pageant into professional enough shape for the town to make the regional finals.

Harry, the smarter of the two, instantly grasps the situation and convinces the reluctant Wayne that they should go along with this case of mistaken identity and muddle through. This means not only staging the pageant, but also pretending to be lovers. And in having them play gay, the movie deserves a round of applause for not requiring Northam and Zahn to fall back on offensive, limp-wristed stereotypes. While awkwardly demonstrating signs of connubial attachment, they remain more or less themselves.

Northam and Zahn play together reasonably well without demonstrating the chemistry of natural comic partners. Northam's Harry is so impossibly suave and courtly, he is almost James Bond-like, while Zahn's Wayne is goofy, a macho Don Knotts with muscles and tattoos.

None other than the sheriff gets a crush on Harry and meekly asks him out. Later in a moment of doe-eyed adoration, he gives him a rabbit's foot. Harry slyly strings Chappy along while wooing the beautiful local banker (Ally Walker), whose institution he plans to rob. Meanwhile, Zahn, in the movie's funniest role, tries to direct a roomful of eager little girls while their supervisor, Ms. Schaefer (Illeana Douglas) gazes on admiringly. When the time comes, Harry and Wayne have little trouble convincing their designated sweethearts that they're not really gay.

"Happy, Texas," directed by Mark Illsley from a screenplay he wrote with Ed Stone and Phil Reeves, builds up expectations of a cathartic comic explosion with the staging of the pageant. But when the big moment comes, the movie blows its opportunity. The event ought to be a hilarious catastrophe. But in turning away from the parading little misses to focus on a car chase and a bungled bank robbery, "Happy, Texas" abruptly fizzles out.



Rating: "Happy, Texas" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes sexual situations and some strong language.

Directed by Mark Illsley; written by Ed Stone, Illsley and Phil Reeves; director of photography, Bruce Douglas Johnson; edited by Norman Buckley; music by Peter Harris; production designer, Maurin Scarlata; produced by Illsley, Rick Montgomery and Stone; released by Miramax Films. Running time: 96 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

Cast: Jeremy Northam (Harry Sawyer), Steve Zahn (Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr.), William H. Macy (Sheriff Chappy Dent), Ally Walker (Josephine McClintock), Illeana Douglas (Ms. Schaefer), M.C. Gainey (Bob), Ron Perlman (Nalhober), Mo Gaffney (Mrs. Bromley) and Paul Dooley (Judge).

Back to Articles