Lone Star Cinema: Fandango


Fandango posterJudy: Then she had her utopian tubes removed.

Gardner: No, that's fallopian, darlin'.

Judy: Fallopian? Them's books of the Bible silly...first and second Fallopians!

These immortal lines from Fandango are probably the film's most quoted dialogue, but they have plenty of hilarious competition. In another famous exchange, one frustrated character says to another, "You are the most irresponsible person I've ever met." The response: "Well, somebody had to be."

Released in 1985, Fandango is something of a cult favorite. Few critics would argue that the Texas-made film is a great movie, but it has enough snappy dialogue, colorful characters and memorable scenes to have earned a loyal fan base and a significant place in Texas film history.

Fandango's plot is summer-movie simple: Essentially, it's a road movie about five newly minted 1971 University of Texas graduates who call themselves the Groovers. Facing the frightening prospects of their post-graduation futures, they embark on a road trip through southwest Texas.

Their next steps in life are daunting. Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards) is engaged, but announces he has called off his engagement because his student draft deferment has expired, and the Army has wasted no time in drafting him. Gardner Barnes (Kevin Costner) has been drafted also. The fate of ROTC member Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson) is also sealed; like the others, he expects to ship off to Vietnam within a few months. The fate of Lester Griffin (Brian Cesak) is less clear, mainly because he remains passed out through almost the entire film. The fifth Groover is quiet, introspective seminary student Dorman (Chuck Bush), whose future is also unclear; he spends most of the film silently observing the others' rowdy behavior. The road trip takes the Groovers from Austin to Alpine, Marfa, Big Bend National Park and various other rugged, dusty Texas locales, on the way to the remote burial place of "Dom"; I'll avoid a spoiler by not describing Dom in detail. Along the way, they run out of gas, and encounter airheaded underage girls, goofy parachute school instructor Truman Sparks (memorably played by Marvin J. McIntyre) and the expected cadre of somewhat clichéd townsfolk. They also consume enough alcohol to fill a West Texas stock tank, but you knew that. There is also an intriguing -- if not really believable -- romantic plot twist, as we would expect in a movie about five young guys having a last youthful hurrah on the road.

I count myself among Fandango's fans, mostly for its easy, nostalgic vibe, great characters and often snarky dialogue. I'm not so much a fan of the implausible, often silly story; much of it is completely ridiculous (and not funny enough to justify the silliness), requiring a generous suspension of disbelief. The acting also is hit or miss, with Costner trying to act cooler than his character really is and Nelson trumpeting most of his lines as if on amphetamines. The most intriguing performance is from first-time actor Bush -- cast after being discovered in an Austin 7-11 store -- who rarely speaks but says much with his thoughtful stares. But despite these criticisms, the whole package is a watchable, generally likable romp, worth a look and best appreciated over a couple of beers.

Fandango is also notable for featuring Costner and Robards's first starring roles, along with the feature film debut of character actress Suzy Amis, best known as Lizzy Calvert in Titanic. In only his third role, Nelson was not yet famous when Fandango was released in January 1985; within a few months, The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire made him one of filmdom's biggest stars.

The critics gave Fandango mixed but often kind reviews, praising writer/director Kevin Reynolds' confidence as a first-time feature filmmaker. Some critics also liked the goofy humor far more than I do. Audiences, however, were not interested; in a limited theatrical release, Fandango grossed less than $100,000. But like all cult films, Fandango found eternal life on TV, video and now the Internet. Its following is such that in 2010, fans held 25th anniversary celebrations at some of the filming locations.

Sadly, the Fandango DVD is a bare-bones affair; the only extras are the theatrical trailer and subtitles. Fortunately, there are plenty of photos, interviews, news items and other goodies on the film's trivia-packed fan site, ultimatefandango.com.

Austin/Texas connections: Like Fandango's story, shooting the film entailed a major road trip that included Austin, Alpine, Big Bend National Park, El Paso, Fort Davis, Lajitas, Marfa, Monahans, Pecos and San Elizario. (Oddly, the scenes set in Dallas were filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma.) Reynolds is a San Antonio native and Baylor University graduate.

Bravo......nice review

You nailed it...almost. A very important key to the films popularity is the fact that all of us fans had our own Fandango at some time and we all know the characters from the film....someone in our life. Join us for UF 2013, summer 2013. Details at ultimatefandango.com

If I could also add, the

If I could also add, the soundtrack follows the action and keeps you on your toes knowing that things are about to happen. There are also interesting shot angles and great use of some local wildlife. It's one of the few films I can watch many times over, still enjoying the classic scenes while finding new bits that I have missed in the past.