The Last Picture Show is a kinda sad, melancholy, nostalgic kind of movie. Released in 1971, it looks back twenty years to 1951 to a Texas town with not much in it. The main drag consists of a movie theater, a cafe, and a pool hall. That’s about it. There aren’t very many extras in the town; the only scene with notable numbers of nonessential cast members, I think, is a high school football game towards the end. In the absence of anything else, it shows how the community comes together.
The film mainly focuses on the trials and tribulations (mostly romantic in nature) of Sonny (Timothy Bottoms). At the start of the film, he’s going with a girl he doesn’t much like and is slightly jealous of his best friend Duane (Jeff Bridges), who’s seeing the prettiest girl in school, Jacy (Cybill Shepard). Sonny breaks up with his girlfriend and takes up with the gym teacher’s wife, Ruth (Cloris Leachman). He learns life lessons from Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the closest thing the town has to a leader. People fall in and out of love and life goes on. The exact numeration of events doesn’t really capture the spirit or point of the film, so I’ll just leave it at that.
What I appreciated about the film the most was its sense of humor, which comes from the transparency of its characters. Some of the lines are legitimately humorous as written, just as jokes, but most of them come from the delivery of the actors and how the characters have been built up. This happens in real life all the time. You laugh at something because it’s so perfect, it’s just the type of thing that the person saying it would say. We know exactly how this person thinks, and the fact that we know that is funny somehow. I’m not even sure why that’s funny, but this film does that better than any other film I can think of. I’ve seldom had that level of relatability with a film, even though these characters experiences are not exactly my own. I still knew exactly what they were thinking, and when the though escaped from their lips it couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face.
I actually saw the film, on film, surprisingly enough. The local theater was showing it in 35mm, and without knowing much about it, I decided to check it out. Little could I have known, though maybe I could have known if I had paid attention to the title more, that this was a perfect movie to see on film. The print I saw was beat up just as much as the town of Anarene was, which was sometimes frustrating but in the end added to the charm of it all. The point is, my viewing experience perfectly the matched the film itself which was interesting.
This is one of those movies where all of the actors are familiar faces, but at first you can’t quite seem to place them because they are all so young. Of course they would all become much famous later. It took me almost the whole movie to identify Ellen Burstyn.
The film, like many coming of age stories, feels a bit disjointed as if its trying to go with the haphazard nature of real life. Most of this is expected and completely fine. However, the way Cloris Leachman’s character was handled was very strange and the film came pretty close to disregarding her. As it is, she doesn’t really get her chance to shine (the character, not the actress) until the very end. It’s almost too little too late, but I at least appreciated that bit where she stands up for herself at the end. It feels a bit perfunctory, but I’m very glad it’s there nonetheless.
I really enjoyed The Last Picture Show. It might not go down in my personal list of all time favorites, but it is a very good film and I’m glad I saw it, especially on film. (Like most movies really) it was good to see it an theater with an appreciative audience. It’s a film I’d be interested in seeing again, mostly for the humor, but it doesn’t straight up demand another viewing.
“You’ve ruined it and it’s lost completely. Just your needing me won’t make it come back.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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