Happy Texas

Director: Mark Illsley
Screenwriters: Mark Illsley, Phil Reeves, Ed Stone

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


Texas is known for larger-than-life things, the least of which is the sleepy town of Happy, where the biggest event is the annual Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Beauty Pageant. Unfortunately, this year community support is waning. If there is any hope of making it to the state finals, it’s time to bring out the big guns: a famous gay couple, who are hired to direct the show.
In awe of these “professionals,” no one in town notices that the “boys” are actually escapees from a West Texas chain gang, who have unwittingly rolled into town in a stolen RV, stocked mysteriously with a sewing machine, spandex, and sequins. With the Texas Rangers hot on their trail and the local bank just ripe for the picking, it seems the perfect place to bite the bullet, lay low, and get down to the business at hand…putting on a pageant.
Happy Texas is a breezy, romping comedy that is a tribute to director Mark Illsley’s fine storytelling and deft flair for pace and character. The ensemble cast shines as the endearing townsfolk who make the zany plot believable, especially William H. Macy as a sheriff with secrets of his own and Steve Zahn as an unlucky con elected to take the young contestants through their paces. With its classic devices of mistaken identities, sexual confusions, and true love prevailing over all, Happy Texas has all the elements of a Shakespearean comedy, excluding of course the kick-line finale.

Mark Illsley, Director
Mark Illsley graduated with a BA in film production from USC
Cinema/Television. Since then, his diverse career has included second-unit directing on three major films: The Beast (Columbia Pictures), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (Warner Brothers), and Rapa Nui (Warner Brothers). He chose Happy Texas as his directorial debut because The Bridge on the River Kwai had already been done.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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