Once in a while, an incredibly likeable, leftfield movie comes along which brightens up the cinema to such an extent that everybody thinks it's much better than it really is. Happy, Texas is the perfect example. It's funny, has scene-stealing actors being scene-stealingly good, bowls along at a comfortable pace and hasn't got a mean bone in its body. It probably isn't going to win any awards (although William H Macy deserves one for his performance as a misunderstood sheriff) and it won't set the box office alight or garner wild critical praise. But it is a definitive feelgood comedy. Happy, Texas won't change your views on life or enlighten you, it will just make you smile.
Ed Stone and Mark Illsley penned the script at breakneck speed, inspired by the bizarre beauty pageants they'd seen taking over small Texan towns. And they filmed it just as quickly (in 26 days), with Peru, California standing in for the real-life Happy (yes, it does exist). All that energy certainly comes across on celluloid, but fortunately they haven't neglected character development in their fast-paced quest for gags.
All the principals are running from things in their lives. Harry is scared of commitment, Sheriff Chappy needs to find love, while Josephine (Walker) and Ms Schaefer (Douglas) are looking for a sense of self-worth. Wayne (Zahn) has always been too busy picking fights and being tattooed to examine his emotions. The comedy allows these characters to discover themselves and pulls the laughs either from these revelations (Chappy exploring his true feelings for the most unlikely of candidates) or from slapstick situations (Wayne coaching the girls to dance).
The bank-job plot and the talent contest preparations take second place to the various entangled love affairs, which is a shame since most of the comic highlights are provided by the former. Harry (Northam) soon separates himself from the show preparations, concentrating instead on romancing Josephine and planning the heist. He becomes Josephine's confidant, while she assumes he's gay and treats him as a girlfriend, which means he's distracted by trying to prove otherwise without blowing his cover.
But this romance is the least interesting aspect of the film, and it shortchanges Northam, whois far funnier in partnership with Zahn and more poignantly emotional when acting opposite Macy. Zahn, meanwhile, is allowed to let rip and goes from crazed buffoon to dedicated showman, yet remains true to his character and grabs the laughs.