For film buffs, there’s an old adage which states that you’ll never forget the first movies that made an impact on you and the same could technically be said for younger actors whose early films seem to resonate-- sometimes unpredictably-- decades later in their careers. For actor Timothy Bottoms, the young avid movie enthusiast he played in Peter Bogdanovich’s 70’s classic The Last Picture Show, comes full circle in director Lorraine Senna’s family film, Paradise, Texas. Again we find Bottoms back in Picture Show’s dusty small town Texas setting as a movie star who seems to have forgotten just why he’d fallen in love with cinema in the first place, taking in movies at his father’s drive-in instead of the about to be closed, antiquated theatre in Bogdanovich’s Picture. However, that’s where the similarities end-- as much out of evolving technology as necessity-- since Senna’s workmanlike film is expressly produced within the family friendly mindset and seems to be like something one has stumbled upon via HBO or ABC’s Family Networks while flipping channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon.
Still tirelessly clinging to the salary and working demands coveted by others in his business, actor Mack Cameron (Timothy Bottoms) has a movie star’s ego that seems conspicuous only when we realize that the man whose name was formerly synonymous with big box office business has significantly less clout than he’d previously boasted. Preferring to accept as many opportunities as his snakelike agent procures to further his waning career in lieu of spending time with his long-suffering wife (Meredith Baxter) and children, Mack is the type of father who returns home from a business trip and presents the eldest son he barely understands airport tourist trinkets like a snow globe and Lakers jersey for the boy’s birthday. After it becomes increasingly obvious that he’s alienating his family, he takes an unglamorous role in an independent film shooting in his home town of Littleton, Texas with the condition that his family accompanies him for the duration of the shoot.
Once in Littleton, he meets his costar CJ Kinney (Ben Estus), a talented middle school aged aspiring dancer whose preference of tap shoes over baseball has made him a strange spectacle in his farming community with a macho cowboy father. However when the boy impresses his drama teacher and the entire school in a bravura talent show act and his mother explains to her husband that “not everything that walks on two feet in Texas needs to have a baseball in its hands,” he gives in and CJ’s natural talent shines through in his scenes with Mack whom the young boy begins to idolize. When Mack’s true selfish nature predictably rears its ugly head, Mack realizes that he’s the one who most needs to come of age as the film reaches its protracted yet innocuous conclusion.
Earnest and enjoyable without being terribly original in its Billy Elliot like homage which most critics referenced, Senna’s technically inferior yet likable family film Paradise, Texas, proves to be far worthier of family viewing than most of what is released theatrically by Hollywood. However, more than that-- its engaging if contrived final sequence admirably celebrates youthful cinematic passion and the importance for adults like Cameron to recall just what drew them to the medium in the first place, whether in real life or in that of celluloid as a young man working alongside Bogdanovich braving the Texas winds to get the shot outside the town’s theatre just right in The Last Picture Show.