Although it probably gets written off as a minor entry in Kevin Costner’s career, I’ve always liked “Fandango”, a movie that should’ve made him a star much earlier. It’s a rowdy, beery right of passage movie about college guys on one last jaunt across Texas before Vietnam, marriage and adulthood set the hooks in them. Costner plays Gardner Barnes, a fine son of Texas who seems to have known and squandered privilege his whole life. He ringleads the last Fandango into the wilds of West Texas with his buddies both as an escape from encroaching adulthood, but as a last gift to friends he has every reason to believe he’ll never see again.
The movie itself is full of great period touches that, while never explicitly showing Austin in 1971, give you a sense of the blossoming freewheeling culture that nurtured these characters. Filmed for the most part in sunbaked, beautiful West Texas desert, it functions as the sort of eulogy we’re used to seeing in Westerns. Instead of say, Gus and Woodrow, we have Gardner, Kenneth, Phil and Co., who have run out of time and country to be wild in. Something about this sort of story speaks to our notions of Texas manhood and the ways we find to negotiate the space between the legends and the lives we can expect to live. These were boys raised to be wild-good natured- but wild. Trying to land the next step in life with some dignity isn’t a lesson that comes as freely.
The quest eventually ends up in San Elizario, Texas (outside El Paso) where loose ends are tied up and Costner, as Gardner, makes his final getaway. It’s not hard to imagine this movie as a spiritual prequel to another Costner movie, Tin Cup.
Tin Cup finds Costner playing Roy McAvoy, essentially the same character as he played in Fandango, but older, disillusioned and gone a little to seed. The same rakish charm is there, and the same careless attitude toward his talents. McAvoy is a washed up former college golf hotshot whiling away his life at a West Texas driving range, not far from where we last saw Gardener in Fandango. These movies are only connected by a few threads, namely Kevin Costner and West Texas, but they touch on strikingly similar subjects with the same deft touch. Beyond all that they’re both funny, insightful looks at Texas manhood and the sometimes unseemly routes it takes.