Dancer, Texas Pop. 81

1998, PG, 97 min. Directed by Tim McCanlies. Starring Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, Eddie Mills, Patricia Wettig, Eddie Jones, Alexandra Holden, Wayne Tippit.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., May 1, 1998

There are so many captivating characters, so many funny moments, and so much sweet affection in this movie, its ending comes as a sorrowful leave-taking. You're tempted to wave goodbye to it (if you have a hankie to wave, so much the better) and linger in your seat long after the lights have come up. John, Keller, Squirrel, and Terrell Lee are four fast friends who are fixin' to graduate and make good on their childhood pact to get the heck out of Dancer, Texas, thereby decreasing their hometown's population by five percent. Their plans are to head out to L.A., believing that their small-town woes will disappear once they're west of the Rockies. Most of the townspeople know better, of course -- some hold their counsel, some relate long and (hilariously) tragic tales about the fate of similar odysseys, and still others make book on how many, if any, of the four will actually leave. And, indeed, as the film progresses, it looks as if the skeptical bookie will prosper. Faced with imminent departure, each boy struggles with the childhood vow, and just who will take that westbound bus is uncertain. The hours that unfold between graduation and the estimated time of departure tell a loving and funny tale of small-town life distilled into the creak of a porch swing or the dust from a speeding car on a lonely highway, a tale of opportunities that beckon and ties that bind. Writer/director Tim McCanlies proves that rural wit is not an oxymoron. A wonderful script is matched by a terrific cast. Meyer (Keller) and Mills (John) are particular standouts. Keller is eager to leave and angry at his friends' defection, but he is Dancer's Everyman, a restless native son who is (and makes us) acutely aware of why they would choose to stay. Mills is simply big, big star material. Though John is the quietest of the four boys, Mills' slight frame and scrubbed face emit something powerful and pure, with a connection to that vast land that goes far beyond his years. His John is an anathema to L.A., a young man you'd like to meet. Patricia Wettig (thirtysomething) has a scene-stealing turn as Terrell Lee's mama. She captures a quality peculiar to rich Texas women: the ability to be icily brittle and sashay down the street at the same time. The film is filled with such performances -- fond and funny and never condescending. Shot entirely in the Fort Davis area, Dancer, Texas is a gorgeous picture that makes wonderful use of the West Texas landscape. We can breathe the air, squint at the sun, and feel dwarfed by the towering buttes and endless sky. And, sitting in traffic on I-35, I feel like getting the heck out of Austin and heading straight for Dancer, Texas, where the deer and the antelope and a bunch of warm and witty characters roam.

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Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, Tim McCanlies, Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, Eddie Mills, Patricia Wettig, Eddie Jones, Alexandra Holden, Wayne Tippit

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