Happy, Texas

on October 01, 1999 by Wade Major
   Happy is precisely what filmgoers will be after basking in the giddy joy of "Happy, Texas," an irresistibly winsome and winning comedy from first-timer Mark Illsley. Built on the sturdy frame of Billy Wilder's 1959 classic, "Some Like it Hot," "Happy, Texas" details the misadventures that befall escaped convicts Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn) after they steal an RV belonging to a pair of gay beauty pageant directors. Before they can make a proper getaway, they are hauled in by small-town lawman Sheriff "Chappy" Dent (William H. Macy) of Happy, Texas, where they are mistaken for the pageant directors and expected to fulfill their contractual obligations. Figuring the charade a good chance to "lay low" while the heat is on, the wily Harry and dim-witted redneck Wayne do their hilarious best to play convincingly gay--a challenge which, in Wayne's case, proves almost insurmountable. To make matters worse, it turns out that their would-be beauty queens aren't women at all, but little girls.
   Not that any of this matters to Harry, who leaves Wayne to fend for himself with the girls and their libidinous teacher (Illeana Douglas) while he plays the gay card for all it's worth to get close with the beautiful owner of the town's cash-filled bank (Ally Walker).
   Immaculately written by Illsley, Fred Stone and Phil Reeves, "Happy, Texas" is arguably the funniest American film in years, a modern-day screwball comedy that not only borrows from but frequently improves upon its hallowed lineage. Zahn's madcap interaction with the girls and Douglas gets most of the heartier laughs, with Macy's latent homosexual attraction to Northam running a close second. On the whole, though, the film is so consistently funny and well-written that citing individual laughs does a disservice to the overall work of Illsley and his peers.
   From a boxoffice standpoint, the lack of major stars among the leads is unlikely to be much of a factor--word of mouth and the usual Miramax marketing push should easily squeeze out formidable returns, helping Illsley, Zahn and Northam finally attain the A-list status that all three so richly deserve. Starring Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas and Ron Perlman. Directed by Mark Illsley. Written by Ed Stone, Mark Illsley and Phil Reeves. Produced by Mark Illsley, Rick Montgomery and Ed Stone. A Miramax release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 104 min
Tags: Jeremy Northam, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas, Ron Perlman, Ed Stone, Phil Reeves, Mark Illsley, Rick Montgomery, A Miramax release, Comedy, screwball, homosexual, convicts, misadventures

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