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The Last Picture Show Review


RATING:
(3 STARS)

The Last Picture Show is a very interesting film about, among other things, boredom. I know that sounds like an oxymoron. In fact, there are some long, drawn-out, boring passages in this film about boredom. But it’s what these people do as a result that is interesting. They explore their sexuality, sometimes in shocking ways. They fight, cheat, and learn valuable lessons about life. It’s a complicated and imperfect film, but ultimately, it’s a worthwhile watch.

Nothing much happens in Anarene, Texas. It’s a veritable ghost town, with dirt-covered streets and very little to do other than go to the local picture house. Sonny Crawford (Timothy Burrows) and Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) are two high school students without much going on in their lives. They play football, but aren’t very good at it. Neither is having much luck with the ladies. Duane is in love with his girlfriend, Jacy (Cybill Sheperd, in her first movie role), but she would rather go to naked swimming parties with her country-club friends than spend time with Duane. Meanwhile, Sonny, who has always had feelings for Jacy, just broke up with his girlfriend and begins an affair with the much older wife of his football coach, Ruth (Cloris Leachman). Other residents of Anarene include Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson), the town’s moral compass and owner of the local pool hall and picture house, Lois Farrow (Ellen Burstyn), Jacy’s bored mother, and Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), a kind local waitress.

As an intellectual experience, The Last Picture Show works really well. The time and place in which the film takes place contrasts wildly to the behavior of the characters. So much for wholesome southern morals! And any trace of a traditional 1950s family is nonexistent. Everyone in this town puts on that they are good ole boys and girls, but each one of them has a secret or a flaw that makes you think they must’ve come from another time or place. The only man who really exhibits these values is Sam the Lion, but he’s only in a handful of scenes, and it’s pretty clear the rest of the folks need his example.

The Last Picture Show is also a very well-made film. The black and white cinematography is great. It helps put you in the time and place of the film. The music has a similar effect. Like the film, it’s not boring, but it conveys the same sense of boredom that the characters do.

But it’s that boredom that prevents the film from being great. It’s a subject that doesn’t make for an extremely entertaining and exciting film. There are only so many scenes I can watch of the guys going to the pool hall or sitting through an old movie. I had a hard time writing up a plot description to the film because so much of it is just these people living their lives. Director Peter Bogdonovich definitely could’ve used a little more excitement in his film.

The film is boosted by a number of exceptional performances. The best of the bunch in my opinion is Ellen Burstyn, as Jacy’s mother. She has a scene near the end of the film with Sonny about her life that’s thought-provoking and kind of tragic. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but lost to her co-star, Cloris Leachman, who’s also quite good as Ruth, a woman who hates her husband but desperately wants to love someone. She finds that someone in Sonny, who seems to be with her out of—you guessed it—boredom. She’s another character who is capable of getting to you emotionally.

The film earned two Best Supporting Actor nominations. The first, the winner of the category in 1971, was for Ben Johnson, as Sam the Lion. Johnson was good enough as Sam, although this doesn’t strike me as truly award-worthy work. He likes to talk about the way the town (and country) used to be, but the fact that none of the characters really heeds his words diminishes the impact of them. The other Oscar nomination went to Jeff Bridges. He’s good, but this isn’t the best work of his long, incredible career.

Overall, the film does a lot of interesting things, but the inherent subject (that bored people will act out) isn’t inherently exciting. The film drags a lot, and I can’t help but feel it could’ve been better with some trimming. But, despite its flaws, I still found it worthwhile. The acting and production values are top-notch, and the film explores some very taboo territory considering the time it was made.

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