Celluloid Country: Honeysuckle Rose, Starring Willie Nelson, Dyan Cannon, and Amy Irving

Juli Thanki | March 17th, 2009

Honeysuckle Rose Willie Nelson’s been in a lot of movies. But his second, Honeysuckle Rose, is his best, if only for the music.

Here Nelson plays the alliteratively named Buck Bonham, a goodtime country musician who tours the nation in a school bus painted to resemble the Texas flag. Buck’s got a wife, Viv, (played by Dyan Cannon and the world’s supply of AquaNet) and a kid who’d like him to stay home, but his heart is with the road, making music with his friends, and apparently wearing a vast collection of headbands. But when bandmate Garland Ramsey decides to retire from life on the road, he’s replaced by his daughter Lily who temporarily fills in as the band’s guitarist. Buck begins falling for Lily–some 25 years his junior and his best friend’s kid, to boot–and when Viv surprises her husband at a show and sees the two sing, then kiss, onstage, things get depressing right quick. But have no fear: everything gets wrapped up nicely when the married couple duets on “Uncloudy Day” before a crowd of drunken mulletheads at Garland’s music festival.

Okay, so her husband’s an adulterous rambler, but if anything, Viv should have been more worried about Buck getting Single White Female-d by Lily: during the concert scene where she confronts her husband, Buck and Lily are sporting matching pigtails, and the two seem to have the exact same wardrobe, right down to the skintight blue jeans. At the very least, a bunny boiling scene would have perked this tired romance plot right up.

Slim Pickens (Blazing Saddles, Dr. Strangelove) is a blast to watch as Garland Ramsey; he steals every scene he’s in. Personally, I’d have liked the film a lot more had they stretched the scene of Buck and Garland in Mexico out for about two more hours as the two wrestle over a pistol, drink a few bottles of tequila, and then drive the Texas bus back to the States. But I guess Garlandsuckle Rose just doesn’t have the same ring to it, and buddy comedies weren’t selling that year.

Broadway star Amy Irving stuns as Lily–but not in the good way. Irving actually won the Worst Supporting Actress award at the inaugural Razzies in 1981, which, for those of you who haven’t seen Honeysuckle Rose, should give you a decent idea of how painfully awkward her performance is. Considering she and Willie began dating during the filming of this movie, one would think her scenes with him would be a little less stilted, but no. Willie Nelson is a great actor here, mostly because he’s basically playing himself. Buck Bonham opens his shows with “Whiskey River,” plays Trigger, Willie’s famous holey guitar, and shares Willie’s love of golf. Really, the only difference between the two is that it takes Buck almost half the film to finally toke up.

As is often the case with movies by or about country music, the best part of the film is its soundtrack. Most importantly, Honeysuckle Rose is the film that led to Nelson writing “On the Road Again,” one of his best-loved signature songs. Aside from Nelson’s excellent music, the soundtrack also boasts numbers by Hank Cochran, fiddler Johnny Gimble, and Emmylou Harris (who appears in the film as herself). Even Dyan Cannon takes a turn, not sounding half bad on “Two Sides to Every Story.”

The plot is predicable and the jokes are lame, but as far as being entertained by Willie Nelson, there are worse ways to spend a couple hours…like watching The Dukes of Hazzard.

  1. CMW
    March 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I love this feature, Juli. It’s always a really entertaining read.

  2. Helen
    March 17, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    I love this movie! You really get to see what its like on the road with Willie & his actual band.

  3. J.R. Journey
    March 17, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    I too like this feature a lot. But I’ve never even heard of this movie. Guess I’ll have to be on the lookout for it now.

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