The Night of the White Pants (Austin Film Festival ’06)

By  · Published on November 12th, 2006

Release Date: TBA (festival circuit)

If The Night of the White Pants was categorized, it would end up being either the shortest road trip, the most unlikely hero’s journey, or an incredibly funny drama. This is a good thing. The movie doesn’t suffer from the dreaded “not knowing what it is” that critics often slam films with. It knows exactly what it’s doing, and the result is an unorthodox story that pits character study against awkward situations and true relationships. Just when you think it’s all gone serious, it make you fall down laughing.

Max Hagan’s world is crumbling. Once the successful Dallas business man featured prominently on magazine covers, his lifestyle, divorces, and a heart attack have left the empire to rot. His son Millian (Fran Kanz) is a drugged-up burn-out living at home without ambition. Max (Tom Wilkinson) is facing divorce from his second wife Barbara (Janine Turner), a young trophy desperate for more than fifty percent, while his first wife Vivian (Frances Fisher) has developed a new romanticism for him after visiting the hotel where they spent their honeymoon. The only positive force in his life is his daughter Beth (Selma Blair) whose small record company is about to be purchased from a larger company based in New York. Fortunately, on the night that all these situations crash together, Max is set to meet Beth’s boyfriend Raff (Nick Stahl), a punk rocker/computer programmer whose hidden his life as a drug dealer from her. After Barbara seizes the house, Max chooses to follow Raff for the rest of a drunken night that becomes an escalating series of terrible events – hard drug use, cowboy hats, breaking and entering, mounted elk heads, sex, a wedding, a judge’s good name, family feuding, jail time, expensive bottles of wine, and, of course, white pants.

If they sound like entries in a MadLib, they probably should. Writer/Director Amy Talkington weaves every wacky element of the film together flawlessly to maximize the humorous moments and the tender conversations. Dealing with a family and a world on the cusp of destruction is no easy task, but Talkington and the cast handle it with the grace of a ballet dancer at a demolition derby. It’s a tale of good people who find they’ve lost their way, or didn’t have one to begin with, and it’s fascinating to watch them try to get it back.

Along the way, The Night of the White Pants doesn’t settle for the typical humor of today, opting instead to place characters in unlikely situations to see how they’ll react or get out of them. The bottom of Max’s particular barrel is the dive bar where Raff’s punk band performs. The buttoned down Republican tycoon finds himself surrounded by a “Fuck everything” world of teens and twenty somethings trying to rebel against The Man. Raff is stuck between growing into the golfing-centric business world and the hard rock place in his life. Beth struggles as the black sheep of a dysfunctional family trying to leave them behind for the big city.

There’s a lot going on – characters, subplots, set up gags with long term payoff – but it’s done brilliantly. What could have been a mess of a movie in lesser hands becomes a genuinely thoughtful piece, aided along by Talkington’s writing and her direction of a strong cast. Heading it up is the compelling Wilkinson whose range takes the spotlight throughout most of the piece. He handles shifting between desperate, joyous, drug-induced, selfish, and loving with ease. Almost equally strong are Selma Blair and Nick Stahl who show impressive maturity, portraying complex characters in a relationship that the audience finds itself rooting for.

Surprisingly, there are not too many things wrong with The Night of the White Pants. This is probably because of the copious amount of people, places and plots on screen. It could have either been a terrible disaster or a constantly entertaining film. With Talkington’s and the cast’s talent, they could have followed up a pie in the face with a heartfelt talk about sticking together as a family, and it would have flowed well. But don’t get lost in the art of it all. At the base of White Pants is a seriously funny movie that you’ll hopefully get a chance to pay ten bucks for. Trust me, it’s worth it.

The Upside: Tom Wilkinson is impeccable as Max, and the way the rest of the cast works together makes it seem like they actually grew up together as a family.

The Downside: The Name. Hear me out on this. I get it, but the pants aren’t featured in any big way – Max wears them, and that’s about it. They could act as a metaphor for his naive sentiments being tarnished by the reality of his family, but if the word Pants is in a title, I just need more pants. Clearly, every reader can tell I’m stretching to find something bad about the movie. I don’t hide it well, I know.

On the Side: Fran Kanz who plays Millian was also in The TV Set which played at the Austin Film Festival as well.

Final Grade: A

Related Topics:

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.