Texas Funeral, A1999

The Southern-gothic psychodrama of old secrets, longtime rivalries, and ancient wounds reopened at a family funeral gets a warm reworking in W. Blake Heron's A Texas Funeral, a gentle variation on the melodramatic standby directed at the easy pace of a Texas drawl. Martin Sheen is at his paternal, gentle best as the deceased patriarch Sparta Whit, who returns in the visions of his grandson and namesake Little Sparta to introduce the boy to the proud and sometimes bizarre history of the Whit family. Robert Patrick and Joanne Whalley costar as Sparta's struggling he-man son and crazy oversexed daughter, respectively, and Chris Noth is the rich cousin quietly shouldering a financial crisis. Heron has a gentle touch with his characters, and his whimsical obsession with camels (the braying "noble steed of the desert warrior") and "the awesome power of the male Whit ear" (which drives members of the opposite sex mad with uncontrollable passion) lightens the family melodrama. It ultimately plays like a too-tidy stage play, where simmering conflicts are swept away with the dawn, but Heron refreshingly discards the traditional screaming confrontations and dish-throwing tantrums for a quietly intimate celebration of family heritage, blood ties, and forgiveness. --Sean Axmaker

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