Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998)
Directed by Tim McCanlies
Cast: Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, Eddie Mills, Ashley Johnson, Patricia Wettig, Michael O'Neill, Alexandra Holden, Eddie Jones, Wayne Tippet.
1998 97 minutes
Rated: (for mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 25, 1998.
"Dancer, Texas Pop. 81," is one of those minor small-town films in which not much happens, but it is enjoyable nonetheless just to watch the characters.
The title gives way to the setting of the movie, which is a tiny desert town that, yes, has a population of only 81. At the start of the film, four teenage friends are about to graduate from high school (their class only consists of one other person), and promised each other when they were 12 that once they graduated, they would set off together for L.A. At the head of the group is Keller (Breckin Meyer), the person who is the most positive he wants to get out. Terrel Lee (Peter Facinelli) is being forced to help out with his father's oil business, and doesn't know how to break the news to his friends that he can't go. Squirrel (Ethen Embry) is the most eccentric of the group, and has a very bad family life, living in a motor home with a father who doesn't really care about him, or know what's going on half the time. And John (Eddie Mills) is also unsure about going, after his father tells him he has a great talent for ranching, which is something he loves.
There are no big, dramatic scenes in "Dancer, Texas Pop. 81," nor are there any big plot developments. Instead, it is simply a series of scenes and vignettes involving all of the characters, and director McCanlies, making his film debut, proves that he is a very assured writer. The cinematography, with the open skies and empty landscapes, are gorgeous to look at.
There actually are no real problems with the film; it is just that it is so laid-back and slight that the picture couldn't possibly be any better than merely "good."
The four main actors are all fine, but it actually is a few supporting performances that stand out, particularly Ashley Johnson, as John's 12-year-old sister, Josie, and Alexandra Holden, as Keller's female friend whom he always confides in with his problems.
"Dancer, Texas Pop. 81," is by no means an earth-shattering, important film. It is neither complex nor any sort of award-winner. But it is quiet and entertaining, and I'm glad I saw it.
©1998 by Dustin Putman