Texasville – Peter Bogdanovich (1990)

I enjoyed The Last Picture Show so much that I decided I’d take a look at the sequel, against my better judgement. The fact that the film was adapted from a sequel book by Larry McMurtry set me at some ease. At the least it would be instructive, thought I. Well, I escaped turning into a pillar of salt or a stony statue, I did not stab out my eyes, but sadly that ancient affliction known as “yep – shoulda figured” was unavoidable. Why does this film exist? There are reasons; it is not that bad. All the same, I don’t really feel like tiring myself enumerating them. The main problem is that this movie takes figures who, in the first film, are semi-mythic, mostly because of the proto-American setting and their taciturn nature, and makes them human, all too human. Where the first film’s real focus was on the town itself, and, to a lesser extent, Sonny as the emblem of this community, here Bogdanovich has refocused the drama on a reunion between Jacy and Duane. Did he really think their relationship was so central in the earlier film that it merited reopening? Is the topic of the film bridging the gulf of time, and their characters are the only viable ones left from the first film? Perhaps he felt he needed a more traditional anchor for a drama that is, if possible, even less dramatic than the first film (although it tries much, much harder). All I care to say is that watching this, so soon after having seen the first film, was like a fever dream in reverse – waking from one lovely, lilting unreality into a garish, nightmarish present. The choice to shoot in color, while making absolute sense, doesn’t help this feeling. Neither do the performances. Jeff Bridges is fine, as Duane wasn’t much of a character to begin with – kind of a doofus jerk, who, thirty years on, is an older doofus jerk, mellowed a bit. Cybill Shepherd does well too, and touches of the younger Jacy are still there in terms of her affect. The rest of the original cast, no matter how closely they hew to their previous incarnations, seem unsure of why they are back. For this, I blame the script. Whereas the first film primarily dealt in images, and talking was kept to a minimum, Texasville is almost all talk, and not very interesting talk at that. It makes the characters seem old and insecure, draining out any mystery that previously held sway. Perhaps this is the point. But poor, poor Timothy Bottoms as Sonny is a true tragedy. The script has him, in middle age, already senile and losing it (to be fair, half the characters seem in their premature dotage) – remembering the old days by sitting in the burned out movie theater and watching “movies in the sky” with his one good eye. Bottoms gives a limp, mannered performance. I don’t blame him, but it really is destructive of his work in the earlier film. The details also nag. The tone is semi-farcical, to provide some “action,” I guess, but the levity is undone by a lack of requisite yeast. Harvey Christiansen, for instance, plays Old Man Balt, a character who as far as I can tell is not in the earlier film, but who, in appearance and age seems to be a stand-in for the sheriff and his cohort. Instead of supplying some meaningful link to the past, he falls out of cars and off of horses and says stuff like “What’s on TV?!” while pulling a mug. Ug. Randy Quaid leads up a supporting cast that can find little to do but run around acting manic, looking sweaty, and shooting things up (this is Texas, after all). Whereas the lack of racial diversity in the prior film was a problem, left unspoken and unsolved, Bogdanovich now provides us with one black character – Pearl Jones as housekeeper Minerva, pure comic relief. Double ug. The new characters do better, although Duane’s children seem to be a tired retread and mash-up of aspects of the original young generation, with his son Dickie reworking Sonny’s attraction to the older Ruth into a veritable career of MILF womanizing (as if that was one of the themes of the earlier picture). The number of premature marriages and surprise pregnancies would make your head spin, if any of it mattered. On a positive note, I would like to pay particular homage to Annie Potts, who, as Duane’s wife of twenty years, is the most interesting and “real” of any of them, and dominates the screen handily in her scenes (which thankfully are many). I could go on and on about the alternating doldrums of leaden plot-shaped meatballs and thick slices of cheese which are draped all over this feast, such as Sonny’s dramatic “rescue” from himself at the top of the football field bleachers that brings all the characters together, feel-good eighties style, in the finale. But why bother? There might be something in here about selling out and flattening out in Reagan’s America, but do I care enough to excavate further? Obviously not.

Two stars out of five

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