Happy, Texas

“Happy, Texas” is such a charming, piquant little film that it’s no wonder the folks at Sundance loved it this year. Plus, there are gay characters, which practically ensures success at the festival.

While on a prison transfer, small-time criminals Harry Sawyer (Jeremy Northam) and Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr. (Steve Zahn) escape and steal an RV destined (unbeknownst to them) for a town called Happy, Texas. As fate would have it, Happy is exactly where Harry and Wayne happen to drive the thing, and they are assumed to be the RV’s rightful owners: A gay couple named Steve and David who go from town to town putting on beauty pageants.

So in order to avoid being arrested, Harry and Wayne must not only pose as a gay couple, but also coordinate a beauty pageant for 10-year-old girls.

In the meantime, they plan to rob the local bank as soon as the pageant’s over. Complications arise (as if there weren’t enough already) when Harry starts to fall in love with bank president Jo McLintock (Ally Walker), who has no problem trusting Harry with her innermost girlfriend-type secrets because of course she thinks he’s gay.

It’s a loopy film, full of quirky characters and entertaining situations. Zahn is great as the dim-witted Wayne, who finds himself getting more and more attached to the sweet little girls he’s directing in the pageant, while Northam is a good leading man for a comedy.

Adding another dimension to the film is William H. Macy as local sheriff Chappy Dent. Macy, who I’m convinced is great in everything he does (and he does about 10 movies a year lately, it seems), gives a performance that is both poignant and hilarious as Chappy finds himself in love with Harry.

The attitude toward homosexuality is pretty liberal, and almost unrealistically so. You’d think the small-town folks in a tiny Texas burg would find a couple of gay pageant directors unacceptable, but none of them do. And ultra-manly prison escapees Harry and Wayne pose as a “couple” with only brief apprehensions — again, far less homophobic than you’d expect from a couple of tough criminals.

Still, the humor and charm of the film outweigh its potential for offense, unless the mere IDEA of homosexuals is offensive to you. This is a movie that doesn’t try too hard to make a point; it just wants to make you laugh. And that it certainly does.

A- (; PG-13, language, sexual content and some violence.)