USA / 1999
Director: Mark Illsley
Writers: Ed Stone, Mark Illsley, Phil Reeves
Cast: Steve Zahn, Jeremy Northam, William H. Macy, Ally Walker, Illeana Douglas
On a Texas chain gang, convict Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr (Steve Zahn) picks a fight with a legendary psycho, to the dismay of their neighbour, conman Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam). When the van taking them to solitary confinement crashes, Wayne and Sawyer escape, hijacking a van.
Running into the local Sheriff, Chappy Dent (William H. Macy), the pair follow him to the town of Happy, Texas (‘The town without a frown’), and discover the van was owned by two gay producers hired to organise a beauty pageant. They assume the men’s identities, and construct a plan to rob the bank during the pageant.
As Harry starts to charm the bank manager (Ally Walker) Wayne unearths his hidden talent for stagecraft, to the amusement of schoolteacher Ms. Schaefer (Illeana Douglas). But as both men’s love lives improve, they feel less inclined to rob the bank, especially as the Sheriff has recently found that Sawyer’s arrival has awoken his own latent homosexuality…
“Not one lesbian ODs in our movie,” said the producer of his film’s tone, and that’s a fair summation. It’s neither Derek Jarman nor Nathan Lane, satirising its sexuality without demeaning its subject thanks to its leading trio. Northam’s comic talent was unknown, but in the company of Zahn (who took home a special Sundance award when the movie premiered in Aspen) he’s a revelation. Both are in the shadow of Macy, who steals another picture with his delicate and sensitive performance combining effective sentiment with comic intuition that one critic compared to Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot .