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Fandango (1985)

May 18th, 2007 · 1 Comment

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In Austin, Texas of 1971, fraternity members prepare a graduation/bachelor party. Gardner (Kevin Costner) is an academic slacker with regrets about breaking up with a girl. Phillip (Judd Nelson) is an ROTC twerp getting ready for boot camp. The party is for their buddy Kenneth (Sam Robards), but he mopes in with his draft notice, and notifies everyone that he’s called the wedding off.

Gardner announces that they’re going on a trip. Taking the burly Dorman and the comatose Lester along, the boys cruise the West Texas back roads in Phillip’s Cadillac. Gardner decides that they should drive to the border and dig up “Dom.” Complications ensue. Gardner gets lost and when the car runs out of gas, decides to lasso a freight train to pull them.

Later, they encounter some “jail bait” (including Elizabeth Daily) at the Sonic Drive-In in Marfa, and make a pilgrimage to what’s left of the filming site of Giant. Phillip has enough of the road trip antics and calls Gardner and Kenneth cowards. To prove he’s not one, he agrees to a parachute jump under the supervision of Truman Sparks (Marvin J. McIntyre), the craziest pilot in Texas.

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Kevin Reynolds was a graduate of Baylor University who enrolled in USC Film School with two goals: write a script he could sell, and make a student film he could show. His thesis script – Tin Soldiers – dealt with the dehumanizing effects of war by imagining American teenagers forming an insurgency against Soviet occupiers. It was turned into a pro-war comic book rewritten and directed by John Milius as Red Dawn.

Reynolds’ thesis film fared better. Titled Proof, it was a 20-minute, black and white short about frat boys and the insanity that ensues when one signs up for parachute school. It was a parody of Greek life at his alma mater, but because his father was still president of the school, Reynolds changed the setting from Baylor to UT.

Proof received such a strong buzz that Steven Spielberg saw it and offered Reynolds the opportunity to expand the short to feature length. The skydiving stunt was still the centerpiece, but instead of more fratboy hilarity, Reynolds’ script became a somber coming-of-age story about five buddies facing the draft. That didn’t fit with the upbeat feel Spielberg anticipated, and he withdrew his name from the film.

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Fandango has its admirers. Quentin Tarantino raved that it was “one of the best directorial debuts in the history of cinema.” He also said that Kevin Reynolds was “going to be the Stanley Kubrick of this decade,” presumably before Reynolds went on to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Waterworld.

There’s good stuff here. The Lone Star state is used supremely well. Too well actually; the locations give the movie a desolate, lonely feel. Though they were scripted to take place in Marfa, the Sonic Drive-In is actually in Alpine, while the gas station/car wash scenes were shot in Marathon. The “Dom” rock is located between Lajitas and Presidio on FM-170.

The skydiving sequence in Fandango is the reason to see this. It’s as visceral, inventive and hilarious as any reel that’s ever been done. There’s a lot here that’s visually clever, but the characters are crudely drawn, and I never bought them as friends. The real problem is that Reynolds never figured out what movie he wanted to make. The skydiving bit indicates a stylish crowd pleaser, while the fabric of the picture is much darker and strives to be taken seriously. Reynolds never figures out how to do both.

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Tags: Coming of age · Cult favorite · Road trip · Shot In Texas · Small town

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Piper // May 21, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    This is one of my favorite movies and as I said in my post of it, this movie is really about what kind of friendship do you have when all the beer is drank. Or is it drunk? I don’t know.

    To me, the friendships aren’t meant to be good. Think back to college and how many friendships you had out of convenience. For men, it’s really easy to befriend someone if you can talk about sports and drink lots of beer. We’re simple that way.

    In this movie, the friends get more than they bargained for. What was meant to be nothing more than a bunch of drinking and driving, turns into a learning and growing experience.

    I like the parachuting scene, but the train scene works for me just as well.

    And the ending dream sequence is fantastic. Love the music from Pat Metheney.

    Had no idea that Reynolds was behind Red Dawn. That might be the coolest piece of trivia I have ever heard.

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