This brilliant masterpiece starring Holly Hunter first aired in 1993 as a HBO special. I remember the original, shocking tabloid story when it first made the rounds. And, I remember seeing this movie the year it originally aired, but what I didn’t know then was how spot-on a portrayal it really was.
People who knew the Holloways have said that the portrayal of Wanda by Holly Hunter could not have been truer.
Certainly, if you are familiar with Channelview, Texas, you will be struck by certain scenes in the film that portray the stark realities of life in some parts of east Texas just as they are. For example, there is the scene where the factory explodes, which is a constant fear for the families and workers in that area.
Also represented is the reality of the pollution in the area because of the factories and how it affects people in that area. The scene that most stands out in my mind is the second-long shot of children’s playground equipment in the foreground and the grey, belching factories in the background.
For family’s like the Holloway’s cheerleading is an ambition that could lead to a better life. So, it is no wonder that it would be taken so seriously.
Wanda Holloway, as portrayed by Holly Hunter, represents a kind of personality and a type of person that is particular to that area. She describes her family as Baptists. She plays the organ in her church. She is involved with her children – or, at least, her daughter and her school activities and her life revolves around the traditional roles of mother and wife.
The reality of life in east Texas is that this wholesomeness is embodied in the people right along side a cold cruelty. For example, in the movie, Wanda explains that living where she does, she has always been close to death. And, maybe that accounts for the real-life lack of humanity that seems to be present in people there. After all, the people who live near and work in those factories live with the threat of death every day and they may become as hardened as people who grow up in war-torn countries.
Death is part of life for them and, so, plotting the murder of a rival cheerleader and her mother doesn’t seem so horrible. Holloway’s lawyer argued that it was a joke, in fact.
Having spent about a year in that general area of Texas, I’m amazed at how the characterization of the life, the people, their accents and their ambitions seems to ring so true.
But, putting all of that analysis aside, this is one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It was done in a style that is part documentary and part dramatization. The movie pokes fun at itself. It is serious at times – sad and tragic. Then the absurdity of it all becomes hilarious.
Even if you don’t live in east Texas, you have probably known competitive women, overbearing stage mothers and other ruthless people. We’ve all had the experience of dealing with such people, either at at work, in the neighborhood, at church, in local government or the P.T.A.
And part of the fun of the film is the schadenfreude. There is something satisfying in seeing Wanda Holloway get her comeuppance. Not because of what she did, necessarily, but because of the kind of person she seems to be.
If you have never seen this movie before, you are in for a rare treat. If it has been a while since you’ve seen it, then by all means it is time to enjoy it once again. It is evergreen. In fact, it seems to be getting better with age.