While the grandest variation on the coming of age tale may be location and period, The Last Picture Show is a by-the-books representation of budding young love between losers, lovers and lustful young adults. They are preparing for the final stages of their freewheeling life and faced with such responsibilities, they are not sure how to handle them. That much is presented very well throughout this Peter Bogdanovich classic. His representation of the 1950s in a small Texas town that has nothing going for it reflects a strange similarity with where I live and where I find myself in life. That is a recipe for success, but The Last Picture Show struggles to carve a voice for itself.
Many of those issues are through characters and their traits. They are not the most interesting individuals to be shackled to, and there is nothing worse than a film that shares the experiences of dullards and delinquents. Bogdanovich has a good understanding of their location, prising at the effects of small kids in a Texas town, looking for a way out. But they should not be looking, they should be clawing and screaming for the sweet release of travel to a different part of the country. Duane (Jeff Bridges) at least reflects this to some degree. He is one of the few characters that feels he has a larger calling for life, and cannot be stuck in the rut of his hometown for good. Neither can I, not because I have some huge calling, but because I do not wish to stagnate.
The Last Picture Show is a representation of that stagnation. Should we be content with the humdrum melodies of life? They play in and out, day after day. Some take to that style like a fish to water, but I have never felt much association with where I live. My desire to escape and that feeling of entrapment is a stomach-churning experience for those that feel like Duane. But for those that can confer and consider the merits of the other characters, they are lost causes for the adventure that life can be. Sonny (Timothy Crawford) and Jacy (Cybill Shepherd) are content in their bubbles, as are many people in the real world. What are they to do when the bubble pops? That is the midlife crisis, and it comes for us all.
But that is where The Last Picture Show falls apart for me. It represents a good chunk of the escapism but does not double down on any of its lost causes or other characters. Many of them are the usual feckless fools, floundering around through alleyways and hotels looking to hit it off with whoever they like or drink booze with the boys. That is the cycle many find themselves in, flirting, drinking and working. The three big “-ings” of life. For me, that is boring. That fourth “-ing” people wish to remove from themselves by dancing, drinking and screwing, as a great lyricist once put. Not my cup of tea, that lifestyle, and The Last Picture Show just isn’t for me either, despite the strange and engaging choices Bogdanovich makes as a director.