★★★ / ★★★★
In Bixby, Oklahoma, two brothers are left by their father to fend for themselves. Since their mother had passed away from pneumonia years prior, Mason (Jim Metzler), nineteen, feels it is his responsibility to try his best to take care of his fifteen-year-old sibling, Tex (Matt Dillon), who makes matters worse by constantly getting in trouble at school. Not receiving a dime from their father (Bill McKinney) for several months, their financial situation has gotten so desperate that Mason has no choice but to sell his as well as Tex’ beloved horse to pay the bills and have food on the table.
The brilliance of “Tex,” based on the screenplay by Charles S. Haas and Tim Hunter, is that although it touches upon the topic of abandonment, it has a knack toward being just light enough in order for it to remain appropriate for younger audiences. After all, it has important lessons about empathy, responsibility, and forgiveness. This is mostly accomplished through Tex’ relationship with people who care most for him.
Most crucial is the bond between Mason and Tex as the former clumsily walks on the elder sibling shoe on his left and substitute parent shoe on the right. Mason leads with his right which causes friction between the two. I enjoyed that when they get into an argument, it is difficult to take sides. Tex is young and wants to experience life by experimenting so blaming him for not having the autonomy to become more responsible does not feel fair at times. And yet there are instances when he makes very stupid decisions which made me want to shake some sense into him.
On the other hand, Mason, as much as he tries to embody the role of the father figure in the household, has his share of young adult problems, too. A talented basketball player, there is a good chance that Indiana University might give him a full scholarship given he remains at the top of his game, fills out the forms correctly, and keeps healthy. To fulfill each category is at times a challenge because of the every day stresses he is subjected to. He is the easiest character to root for because of his seemingly endless ability to give, not only restricted to his brother but going as far as offering kind words to a friend even if he himself did not necessarily believe it.
I wished that the director, Tim Hunter, had given Metzler more close-ups in order to force us to feel closer to Mason. For instance, during scenes of showing how Mason really feels when Tex is either blasé or downright ungrateful toward his efforts. Having us tight and close might have given us the more subtle emotions like frustration, anger, and perhaps even the nagging feeling of wanting to quit being the caretaker of their family.
The less impactful scenes involving Tex’ best friend, Johnny (Emilio Estevez), and crush, Jaime (Meg Tilly), have nice and brief touches to them. When Johnny and Tex have a fight, the resolution is very true when it comes to male friendships. Sometimes no apology is necessary because a perfectly timed positive gesture can clearly communicate a chance to wipe the slate clean and allowing the butting heads to move on.
Jaime, the only female voice in the film, has a sharp tongue but she is smart. Each time she speaks, I was interested in whatever she has to say. I understood why Tex is attracted to her. Maybe if I knew a girl like her, she would have grabbed my attention, too. Sure, Tex wants her because he is young and curious but there is also a genuine sweetness in their friendship.
Based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, one can argue that “Tex” could have been more powerful if its emotions weren’t so muted. I counter its emotions are muted only outwardly. Watch Tex and Mason long enough and one can almost feel them wanting to break out of their lives, out of Bixby, Oklahoma.