To Live and Die in Hicksville.
Sex in a small town. And more sex. And more sex…
In 1951 Anarene, Texas, there’s not much to do except be an angst-ridden teen and feel up chicks in the dark of the old movie theater. But small town life is crawling to a close, and the teens in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, like the town of Anarene itself, are thrown into the world with their naïveté on stun and their hormones on kill.
The bad economy (isn’t it always?) has forced the local movie theater to close. Soon there will be a last picture show. And the dull meaningless void beckons. The teens are antsy, drunk, irresponsible; the adults, worn out, cynical, devoid of dreams.
From a novel by Larry McMurtry, Peter Bogdanovich co-writes and directs this frank, forward tale of a small community fragmenting as the old guard is replaced with teen beat. With the death of the town’s tacit head, Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the townsfolk and teens who regarded him a stabilizing force are suddenly rudderless.
Duane (volatile Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (soulful Timothy Bottoms) are best friends, high school graduates gawping at the threshold of life without a clue. Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) is the teen tease every boy lusts after – she’s Duane’s girl, but has no qualms in cozying up to a rich college boy to further her prospects.
Shepherd plays Jacy with a callousness that prompted the invention of the c-word; using sex academically, as a weapon. She accepts an invitation by Randy Quaid (so young he looks like little brother Dennis) to a pool party only to get closer to the rich boy; on this same night, Duane gives her a watch bought with six months savings, which she callously takes off – along with her clothes – and dives naked into the pool for the rich boy. Rich boy tells her “Come see me when you’re not a virgin,” so she deflowers herself dutifully with Duane (who adopts the studly strut – until he realizes she was only prepping herself for the richie).
Meanwhile, MILF Ruth (Cloris Leachman) cozies up to teen Sonny while her husband Coach Popper is at school coaching Sonny’s basketball team. Back when Cloris Leachman was only in her 40s, she was surprisingly svelte and sexy, yet it wasn’t from her cardboard emotionlessness or pointy bra – it was her sexual forthrightness, openly seducing Sonny with a frankness that we don’t see in modern American cinema.
When Jacy eventually elopes with Sonny she doesn’t allow him to touch her in the car on the way to their honeymoon; as with all her relations it is purely academic, simply so she wouldn’t be an old maid in a small town. When they are caught and she is forced away from him, it is not the usual tearful rending of two lovers; she gives him an ambivalent look, gets into another car and doesn’t look back as it drives off.
Then – Clu Gulager! Renowned C-actor and bane of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, boyfriend to Jacy’s mother (Ellen Burstyn, also looking young and MILF-y), seducing Jacy on a pool table, who acquiesces with nary a movement.
No such thing as foreplay in this town, which is a refreshing change from all those mid-Americana teen movies where kids spend endless hours necking necking necking. Yet there is also dearth of emotion. Bogdanovich is intent on showing us how clinical, uncomfortable and embarrassing sex is, almost an unnatural act with its participants autonomously going through motions without knowing why.
And on the opposite side of the life-creating act, there is death. Tragedy must necessarily dog a town on the threshold of change. Or that does this much shtupping. And Bogdanovich pours out the tragedy in equal amounts.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW is the reality that happens after the cameras stop rolling on any given episode of HAPPY DAYS.