Screenplay : Peter Bogdanovich (based on the novel by Larry McMurtry)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1991
Stars : Jeff Bridges (Duane Jackson), Cybill Shepherd (Jacy Farrow), Annie Potts (Karla Jackson), Timothy Bottoms (Sonny Crawford), Cloris Leachman (Ruth Popper), Randy Quaid (Lester Marlow), Eileen Brennan (Genevieve Morgan), William McNamara (Dickie Jackson), Pearl Jones (Minerva), Katherine Bongfeldt (Nellie), Jimmy Howell (Jack), Romy Snyder (Julie)
"Texasville" shows that time doesn't necessarily change life, it just alters how we view it.
With vivid color photography in contrast to the stark black and white of its prequel, "The Last Picture Show," "Texasville" is both a funny and a sad look at contemporary small town life during the Reagan years. The tragedy of the first film has been replaced with a kind of banal triviality; what was shocking in 1951 is just fuel for gossip in 1984. Adultery has been going on for so long that whispering about it just doesn't make sense. Melodrama has become farce.
When the film opens, over thirty years have passed since the events that transpired in "The Last Picture Show." Sonny Crawford, Duane Jackson, and Jacy Farrow, the three central characters of Peter Bogdanovich's bittersweet ode to small town sin, have gotten older, but haven't necessarily grown up. Sonny is still morose, Duane is still confused, and Jacy is still just as slinky and sly as she ever was, just in a more mature, womanly kind of way.
On the surface, the small town of Anarene itself is almost exactly as we remember it (Bogdanovich again filmed on location in Archer City), but there are a few modern additions. The most understated, yet shocking occurs in the first shot: a huge, ungainly backyard satellite dish, which echoes the earlier film's theme of the death of movies by television (remember, the first film opened with a shot of the movie theater). Instead of John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor larger than life on the silver screen we have 50 channels of game shows and home shopping.
Of course, there's also the addition of the local Dairy Queen, with its pre-packaged consumerism and unoriginality replacing the local pool hall and diner as the town meeting spot. If "The Last Picture Show" was about the death of one age (picture shows), "Texasville" is about what the new age (television) has brought us. But, always, the boredom persists, and where there is boredom, there is mischief.
While "The Last Picture Show" was primarily interested in the character of Sonny (Timothy Bottoms), "Texasville" turns its focus to his best friend, Duane (Jeff Bridges). Duane, the penniless football hero who lost the rich girl and went to fight in Korea instead, is now married to Karla (Annie Potts), a feisty woman with a quick tongue and a strong sense of resilience. She knows Duane cheats on her, and so she cheats right back; it's almost like a chess game of adultery. Duane, along with the town itself, got an extended lease on life during the oil boom of the early eighties, but now he's wallowing in a $12 million debt brought on by the fluctuating economy. Of course, this is just the beginning of his troubles.
Duane's extended family has the combined dysfunctionality of the entire town in the first film. His oldest son, Dickey (William McNamara), is a rousing teenage womanizer who has been bedding most of the local women, including some of Duane's girlfriends. His oldest daughter, Nellie (Katherine Bongfeldt) has several children of her own from previous marriages, all of whom live with Duane. And don't forget "The Twins," Jack and Julie (Jimmy Howell and Romy Snyder), Duane's youngest children who get kicked out of a Christian camp after posing nude for Polaroids and throwing bricks into the toilets.
It's during one of his escapes from this proverbial family nightmare that Duane runs into Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), the manipulative rich girl from his high school days who has just recently returned to town. She has been living in Europe most of her life, and has recently lost a young son. Tragedy has made her into a different person, and she comes back into his life in a way he never could have expected.
All the other characters are there as well (except Sam the Lion, who died in the first film). Sonny, who has been developing neurological problems that cause him to forget where he is, is the town's mayor and owner of several local business. Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the coach's wife with whom Sonny had a teenage affair, is still in town, working as Duane's secretary. Lester Marlow (Randy Quaid), the goofy rich kid from Wichita Falls, is now the local bank president, living under a cloud of fear that he will be sent to jail. Even Genevieve Morgan (Eileen Brennan), the waitress at the local diner, is still around.
Bogdanovich, who desperately needed this film to revive his sagging career, managed to assemble all the major players from the first film. This alone makes "Texasville" an interesting set-piece, because the characters from "The Last Picture Show" were such thoroughly drawn out and memorable people. None of them came across as actors playing parts, but rather as actual townspeople who had lived there all their lives. The same is true in "Texasville" -- it feels as though all of them have been living steadily in Anarene during the twenty years since "The Last Picture Show" was made, instead of going on to successful movie careers.
While it's not nearly the masterpiece "The Last Picture Show" was, "Texasville" has the affecting, nostalgic feel of a homecoming. Because Bogdanovich already had that in his favor, it seems like a let-down that he couldn't make a stronger film, especially considering the strength of the Larry McMurtry novel he based his screenplay on. "Texasville" comes across more like a series of vignettes than a whole film. The movie is strung on the plot device that Archer County is celebrating its centennial, which is supposed to bring the town together. Despite many well-done sequences both funny and sad, the movie never quite comes together as a whole.
Like the first film, "Texasville" closes with questions unanswered and problems left unsolved. But isn't that how real life is, especially in Anarene? It would have been a cheat had the film tried to tie up all the loose ends that have been dangling in the wind for the last thirty years. Jacy's return to Anarene may signal something new for the town, but it's still the same old place.
©1998 James Kendrick