Ryanburg Film Commentary No. 4 (3-24-99)
Marooned in Big Bend - Dancer, Texas Pop. 81

Genre = Drama/Comedy

Set in fictional Dancer, Texas in the real Brewster County (the largest county in the U.S.) this film follows four friends on their graduation weekend. The film opens with a shot of all four sitting in lawn chairs set up across the highway discussing their childhood vow to get the hell out of Dancer and move to Los Angeles. The message is clear. The town is so small and isolated that it is safe to set up camp on the highway. So small they write a letter to Rand McNalley to include the town on its map of Texas. Eventually they spot a car coming and decide to go home.

The four friends are a mixed bag. One is the son of the local oil company owner with a social climbing mother; one is the son of the local drunk and is upset that there are four guys and only three girls near their age; another who lives with his widower grandfather and has to keep track of the covered dishes that the town’s widows bring on a weekly basis; and the fourth of a local rancher. The town’s men know of the boy’s plan and begin to lay bets on those that will actually leave and those that will stay. They have been through this route themselves. Those betting on them to stay begin to tell the boys horrible tales of past town’s people who have ventured to the outside world: “My brother went to California. He was murdered there. In prison.” Most of their families also make both subtle and not so subtle hints at them to stay, others tell them that their future is elsewhere. Each of them is forced to struggle with their decision and in the end each makes his choice. Some discovering that the whole world was where they are.

Well written and evenly paced by director/author Tim McCanlies with Patricia Wettig (thirtysomething) stealing some of the scenes as the rich kid’s mother. Her performance exemplifies the typical non-metropolitan, non-yankee upperclass and their attitudes towards regular folks. Shot entirely in the Fort Davis area, Dancer, Texas is an attractive picture that makes wonderful use of the West Texas landscape. Sometimes while sitting in traffic on the way home from work, you get the urge to get out of Houston and move to Dancer for the peace and quiet. Then you find out that Brewster is a dry county and it’s a 200 mile drive to buy beer.

Grade = B+

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