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Happy, Texas
Film Unlimited (The Guardian/The Observer), Friday, December 3, 1999, Peter Bradshaw

A bright, funny and unusual indie picture which won golden opinions this year at Sundance is Happy, Texas, starring our own Jeremy Northam, an excellent actor whose career is running on rails just now. The film is about two convicts, Harry (Northam) and Wayne (Steve Zahn) who escape from a chain gang in Texas and steal a camper-van belonging to two gay guys who direct "pre-teen beauty pageants". They arrive at a small town called Happy and end up having to pass themselves off as the van's shriekingly camp owners, and coach a group of tiny wannabes for Miss Squeezed Pageant contest. Northam demonstrates once again that, with his adaptable handsomeness - smouldering or debonair, as required - and his plausible American accent, he is set to conquer the world, but it is actually Steve Zahn who steals the show as the gibbering, resentful Wayne.

As far as the pre-pubescent beauty contest goes, I have to confess that, in the shade of JonBenet Ramsey, I felt a twinge of spoilsport unease. But there is a sharp and original script here (co-written by the director Mark Illsley), some splendid support from Illeana Douglas and William H Macy and a lot of laughs. It's Cool Hand Luke with showtunes.



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