‘MUSTANG ISLAND’ rounds up Texas-sized laughs

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Preston Barta //  Features Editor

Ageless romantic-comedy softens the blow of breakups

There are a few universal truths about relationships, and chief among them is that breakups suck. Whether you’re the dumper or the dumped, it can often send your world spinning and make you feel like you’ll never find love again.

One particularly effective method for handling such a tragedy is to drown your sorrows in movies about people going through the same thing. Tempting though it may be to bare your heart to each and every single one of your friends and drink mimosas until you’re green in the face, a good breakup movie can commiserate with you, understand your frustration and pain, and inform that you’re not alone and there are more fish in the sea.

MUSTANG ISLAND is one such film.

The brisk, black-and-white romantic comedy made its regional premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival over the weekend and it undoubtedly rounded up some Texas-sized laughs. Directed by Craig Elrod (THE MAN FROM ORLANDO) and starring real-life couple Macon Blair (BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM) and Lee Eddy (I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE), MUSTANG ISLAND will hit home and paint a smile on you that just won’t quit.

From left: Jason Newman, John Merriman and Macon Blair play three friends who travel to Mustang Island to win back one of the men’s ex-girlfriends. MUSTANG ISLAND, set on a Texas beach, screened at the Dallas International Film Festival. Courtesy of Pepper Island Films.

The man of these 87 minutes is the unfailingly funny Blair, who stars as the rejected lover, Bill. After his girlfriend (Molly Karrasch) gives him the boot at a New Year’s Eve party, Bill and his friends (John Merriman and Jason Newman) head to the titular beach to try to win her back. But when they meet local waitress Lee (Eddy), things get a little more complicated for Bill and his friends.

The most admirable quality to MUSTANG ISLAND (beyond its service as a healer for the broken-hearted) is how Elrod imbues his film with a timeless quality. While presented in beautiful black and white, the film’s humor and surroundings also support its timeless feel.

“I think [Elrod] has a way of zeroing in on the specific, emotional details. It’s more internal and less about the characters’ jobs or something they’re trying to achieve,” said Blair when the cast and filmmakers of MUSTANG ISLAND stopped in Dallas. “[Elrod] made a point to not use cellphones and use vehicles that feel out of time.”

For Elrod and co-screenwriter Nathan Smith, all of what we see in his film’s world exists within the characters and not a specific place in time. The black-and-white aspect sets up this sense, and as Blair noted, “your expectations are calibrated for this kind of story.”

“I think the timelessness also comes from film’s humor. It could work with any year or decade,” Eddy said. “[Elrod] does such a great job of heightening humanity’s little foibles and blowing them up to the degree he does. Instead of saying, ‘Hey! Come check out the humor of humanity,’ we do it in a way that causes the viewer to say, ‘I can totally relate to that.’ Humanity has its patterns.”

Adding to the film’s workings on many levels is how little dialogue there is. It doesn’t try to force any feelings on its audiences by allowing its story to unfold in a larger-than-life fashion. Like Richard Linklater’s quiet but sprawling BOYHOOD, much of MUSTANG ISLAND depends on what the viewer brings to the table.

“We’re so lucky to have a great cast in this. They can just sit there in a chair and say a million different things with their faces,” filmmaker Elrod said. “I think we all are a bit tired of movies that are like radio plays, where they say exactly what they’re feeling. I can’t always get into the movie that way. When it’s unspoken, you can bring more of yourself to it.”

Some of the film’s best scenes involve Blair and Eddy. Whether they’re having a casual conversation over dessert, or snoring into each other’s mouths, the goofiness of the characters reflect how fun the actors are in real life.

“I’d like to think I’m much more of a blabbermouth compared to Bill,” Blair quipped.

“You’re not as much of an ass, either,” Eddy added. “The comfort level, I think that’s what works for the relationship, because it happens so quick that you have to be able to see that there is something there that is not going to be, ‘Let us explain why these people are instantly falling in love.’ You just have to feel it.”

MUSTANG ISLAND is a sweet, funny and instantly quotable feat to behold. It’s also a very strong contender for the most original date movie of the year.

Grade: A-

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.