Friday, July 19, 2019

Cinema Shame: Urban Cowboy (1980)


I'm chipping away at my 2019 Cinema Shame challenge. This year I gave myself the goal to watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980 for the very first time. I'm hoping I can tackle a few reviews this summer so I can keep up!

Oh boy. I'm not even sure how Urban Cowboy (1980) made it onto my Cinema Shame list. I'm just going to chalk it up to the fact that it met all of my criteria (film released in 1980 - check. film I haven't seen yet - check). But perhaps I should have skipped this one. It has NOT aged well and while I'm glad I watched it I'm not going to visit it again any time soon.

Urban Cowboy stars John Travolta as Bud, a small town cowboy who leaves for Houston to find a job in the oil business. He stays with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and Aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson) who take him out to the hottest club in town, Gilley's a hopping honky tonk bar where all the action happens. There he meets Sissy (Debra Winger), a bar regular with a spirited personality. They quickly fall in love and get married. Bud has his eye on mastering the mechanical bull at Gilley's and when former convict Wes (Scott Glenn) shows up at Gilley's Bud finds some competition for both the bull and Sissy. Bud and Sissy have a falling out driving Bud into the arms of the cowboy obsessed Pam (Madolyn Smith Osborne) and Sissy into the arms of Wes who teaches her how to ride a mechanical bull. As Bud trains for a mechanical bull riding competition, behind the scenes Wes is up to no good.



When Urban Cowboy hit theaters in the summer of 1980, critics called it the country western answer to Saturday Night Fever and they were not wrong. It definitely had that vibe even if the dancing wasn't as prominent. The film was directed by James Bridges and based on the real life story of Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer, two Gilley regulars whose romance was profiled in an Esquire article. This movie just doesn't sit well in the 21st century and I found it off-putting. The domestic violence in particular is hard to swallow. Sissy, played by Debra Winger, has to endure a lot of emotional and physical abuse. Both Bud and Wes treat her like shit. Bud starts off as a total jerk and then comes around by the end. Wes seems okay but his criminal past and his flirtatious nature makes it apparent early on that he's not one to settle down with. Even so, both Bud and Wes' characters do a sudden about face that I didn't quite see coming and felt like a plot fix. In the end, I was only really invested in Sissy and everyone else (except for Bob and Corene!) could go to hell in a handbasket. I can see some of what people enjoy about this movie. It has a great cast, a great sense of place and time and plenty of dramatic tension throughout. The mechanical bull riding scenes were so much fun to watch. But for me the events in the story were either too predictable or came out of the blue. Overall the film left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Have you seen Urban Cowboy? What did you think? Did you like it more than I did?

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