A group of high schoolers fool around and come
of age in a dying North Texas town in 1951.
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich
Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd,
Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Eileen Brennan
Based on the novel by Larry McMurtry
Oscar Wins - Best Supporting Actor (Ben Johnson),
Best Supporting Actress (Cloris Leachman)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor
(Jeff Bridges), Best Supporting Actress (Ellen Burstyn),
Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography
The Last Picture Show is the film that launched the career of Jeff Bridges, so for that alone, I'm grateful. More than that, it's a brilliant coming-of-age drama that shows audiences a piece of American history that is often glamorized or glossed over: Teenagers in 1950's America. In fact, this may be the horniest film I've ever seen. It's stupid to think young, curious, hormonal teenagers weren't fucking anything that moved even back then. This Pleasantville, Leave It to Beaver version of society never existed. In truth, nobody has ever known what they want. We've always been out of our heads, hard to please, and confused about the rest of our lives. If nothing else, it makes you feel a bit comfortable.
In the atrophying town of Anarene, Texas (North Texas, to be specific. Anyone whose ever been up there knows how accurate this portrayal is.), a group of teens are discovering themselves for the first time. Sonny (Bottoms) and his best friend Duane (Bridges) are both after the same girl, the sociopathic Jacy (Shepherd), who loves pitting men against each other for her own amusement. One of my biggest gripes with the film is that she never gets hers. Sonny starts a sordid affair with a married older woman named Ruth (Leachman), while all around them, their town is losing its soul after the death of local pool hall owner Sam the Lion (Johnson). There's not much of a plot, but the characters draw you in; a surefire sign of a good movie.
The Last Picture Show has remained a celebrated American classic for the past 50 years. And it deserves that recognition. I mostly can't stand coming-of-age films, and I loathe movies about teenagers and their stupid problems. Yet, something about this particular film spoke to me. The performances are great and the script is refreshingly realistic.