Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom


I’d been hearing about this one for years, and I can tell you it is all it was cracked up to be.

First, the director, Michael Ritchie. He went on a streak beginning with Downhill Racer in 1969, one of the best sports movies ever made. Then he made The Candidate, one of the best political movies, and Smile, a wonderful thing about small-town beauty pageants. After that his output was uneven, and he died in 2001, much too young. He was at the top of his game when he made this one.

Then the writer, Jane Anderson. The name wasn’t ringing any bells, so I looked her up and found she had written How To Make an American Quilt and written and directed The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, which we liked a lot. I hope she gets more directing jobs.

And the story: You’ve certainly heard of it. In Channelview, Texas, Wanda Holloway becomes so obsessed with getting her daughter on the cheerleading squad that she hires a hit man to kill the girl’s chief rival and her mother. This could have been done as a routine movie-of-the-week (and was, shortly after this one: Willing to Kill: the Texas Cheerleader Story, on ABC). Even the title sucks, especially compared to this one. Jane Anderson handles it as a black farce. After Wanda is arrested the story becomes one of who among the many people involved will make out best selling the TV rights to the story. It’s very funny, with these Texas rubes talking about agents and cuts of the profits. One writer, attempting to convince the intended victim to deal with her, mentions that she has Holly Hunter in mind to play her.

Which brings us to what makes the whole crazy thing work: Holly Hunter. This lady is so good she scares me sometimes. If you want 5 feet 2 inches of firecracker intensity with a southern accent, you could not possibly think of anyone else for the part. This film is shot on two levels. There is the story itself, told in the conventional way, and an interview with Wanda and her daughter, shot on video. In these segments she is … so fantastically good it was like she had gotten into the crazy skin of Wanda. Her eyes are laser beams, and her mouth is capable of speaking whole paragraphs with just a small twist. She can smile in such a way that it makes your skin crawl, and hold it those few daring extra beats that make you want to turn away from her naked obsession and total lack of self-doubt. She is a monster, pure and simple, and has no idea that she is. If this had been a theatrical release, she’d have won an Oscar.

The heart of the movie is a long scene, that looks as if it was partly improvised but probably wasn’t, as it was based on transcripts of tapes made by the hit man. She and Beau Bridges play off each other so wonderfully, Hunter goes though such a range of things … it is quite simply one of the best scenes between two actors ever put on film. I would recommend the film for those 15 minutes alone, but there is so much more. Rent this at once.