Urban Cowboy (1980)
“Hard Hat Days And Honky-Tonk Nights.”
Director: James Bridges
Cast: John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn
Synopsis: John Travolta stars as a young man from the country who learns about life and love in a Houston bar.
Back in the dim and distant days of 1980, when the world was still puzzling over who had shot JR and ’good-ol’-boy’ movies retained a measure of residual popularity, Urban Cowboy was released with the tagline ’Hard Hat Days and Honky-Tonk Nights.’ which pretty much tells you all you need to know about it. That line might have drawn in the crowds thirty-odd years ago (although it didn’t), but today it serves as a flashing red warning beacon to steer clear. Urban Cowboy has gained some kind of spurious popularity as a guilty pleasure, which is probably the best that it could have hoped for, but unless you’re not deterred by wall-to-wall country music and Stetson hats, and the former king of disco speaking such lines as ’All cowboys ain’t dumb. Some of ’em got smarts real good, like me,’ then this probably isn’t the movie for you.
Travolta plays Bud, a young buck from the country who moves to Houston to live with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and his family. At a sprawling honky-tonk bar called Gillie’s, Bud meets Sissy (Debra Winger), and the couple undergo a whirlwind romance which ends up in marriage. Their wedded bliss soon comes under strain when Bud begins riding the mechanical bull at Gillie’s and takes exception to Sissy’s desire to do the same (read into this what you will). When Bud learns that Sissy has secretly been taking lessons in riding the bull from ex-con rodeo cowboy Wes (Scott Glenn), the couple split up, and Sissy takes up with Wes while Bud begins a relationship with rich girl Pam (Madolyn Smith).
Films with a determinedly blue-collar slant aren’t usually a problem, but it’s almost as if the writer of Urban Cowboy (take a bow director James Bridges, who was also responsible for other memorable cinematic mistakes such as Mike’s Murder (1984) and Perfect (1985)) has simply made use of every stereotype he can think of in the hope that doing so will magically produce an air of realism. In fact, all he succeeds in doing is insulting his target audience. Both Bud and Sissy are characters of such juvenile immaturity that you kind of feel glad that they end up together at the end of the movie because it means by doing so they stop two other people from being miserable. Sissy is a sweet character, but both Bud and Wes think nothing of knocking her about when she annoys them, which makes Bud’s righteous anger when he sees the bruises Wes has put on her face sort of laughable – only Bud is allowed to beat up his woman, and anyone else who tries had better watch out. So yeah, it’s good that they end up together, but you can’t help feeling that Sissy is just going to spend her life passing from one abusive redneck to another, while it won’t be long before Bud’s a functioning alcoholic, sporting a beer gut and falling asleep in front of the TV every night.
(Reviewed 29th May 2012)