October 18, 1999
This wonderful little comedy was a big hit at film festivals, and it's easy to see why. The farcical premise of two escaped convicts posing as gay "pageant consultants" in a little Texas town called Happy, while hiding from the law has lots of comical possibilities. The filmmakers take a refreshingly original approach to the material, avoiding the most obvious jokes, and are aided greatly by stellar performances.
Three cons escape from a chain gang, but the third quickly frees himself from their chains and takes off with the bolt cutters, leaving the other two chained together. These two steal an RV owned by two beauty pageant consultants on their way to a job, and end up assuming their identities. Steve Zahn as Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. is a nearly inarticulate, not-too-bright brawler charged with teaching the little girls to sing and dance, and Jeremy Northam is the much slicker conman Harry Sawyer who works to gain the trust of the town's people.
However, this is no buddy movie about this mismatched pair, but a comedy about them and the town's inhabitants learning to see life and themselves in a different way, thus freeing themselves to take a new direction in life. Best of all, this is done in such a hilarious way with such wonderful performances that you can't help but like all the characters, no matter what their flaws. While this is a low-budget film and lacks the slick polished production values of a big budget film, it more than makes up for that in the quality of the performances and the sheer amount of fun it provides. William Macy, Jr. is a standout as the sheriff, a solid nice guy who wants to see the town's girls win the pageant but a man with unfulfilled dreams of his own. Hilarious performances, funny and charming characters, considerable silliness, and a plot that is resolved nicely in the end results in a film that is just plain fun to watch.
(Opened Oct. 15 at Chase Park Plaza, West Olive 16, and St. Charles 18)