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(Can be sung to “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”)
Travolta went down to Houston,
He was lookin’ for a job to take.
He was young and dumb, just a country bum,
And he was waiting for his big break,
When he came across this young girl
Dancin’ round in a honky-tonk,
A promised land of beer and band
With a metal bull or bronc.
When the misfit pair were married,
Things at first were going well,
But some stubbornness made a jealous mess
And the marriage quickly fell.
While the two just boozed and pined away
And rode that bucking bull,
I began to think that this movie stinks
And was near unbearable.

This is it, the original bottom-dweller. This is the first movie I sat through and immediately hated, or, to coin Roger Ebert’s quote from his review of North, I “hated hated hated hated hated this movie.” Urban Cowboy was yet another star vehicle for John Travolta, but with films like this, it’s a wonder he became a star at all. I don’t usually subject myself to terrible films, but never before have I asked “Is it over yet?” so many times.

It starts out with some promise: small-town wannabe cowboy heads to the big city to find his fortune, meets girl, marries girl. That storyline alone might have been worth seeing, but the relationship between Bud and Sissy is hardly one for the ages. They meet each other in the famous Gilley’s Club, a multi-acre theme park of booze and cowboy paraphernalia, and Sissy (Debra Winger) has to practically twist Bud’s arm to convince him to dance with her. After some dancing and an argument and a roll in the mud, they’re suddenly walking down the aisle. Did either of them really think a marriage starting like that would last? As it turns out, barely a week passes before Bud’s pride is hurt, and both go their separate ways to make the other jealous, with increasingly depressing results.

One of my biggest problems with Urban Cowboy is the character of Bud. Travolta isn’t appealing in the slightest; he’s a juvenile man-child so unconfident in his masculinity that the slightest hint that someone may be better than he throws him into a blind rage, especially if it’s his own wife. In addition, he’s the kind of bumpkin that gives country music a bad name, content to work (sometimes) during the day and wile away his nights at the bar, picking fights and slapping his wife when she disagrees too much (but not too hard, of course). Plus, he’s supposedly in Houston to work and save up enough money to buy land and become prosperous, yet never seems to realize that he’s pouring his paycheck down the drain every night on beer and bets and pointless mechanical bull rides. Oh, and let’s not forget that he doesn’t just pretend to cheat on Sissy to make her jealous; he freely sleeps around, too stubborn to actually care for the girl he uses (Madolyn Smith) and too dense to realize why Sissy isn’t running back to him with open arms. What exactly am I supposed to like about this guy?

A series of misunderstandings keeps the couple apart, and Sissy ends up with “real cowboy” Wes Hightower, played by a leery Scott Glenn, who’s just a slightly harsher version of Bud, hitting a little too hard and stealing what he can’t earn. If Bud and Wes are “real cowboys”, they’re the worst kind, selfish he-men just trying to prove their own toughness to girls they only moderately care about. By the end, Bud trains Rocky-style for a mechanical bull showdown, and he seems to think that winning it will win Sissy back. How so? A silly championship is not going to repair a relationship; all his training is pointless, since all he really needed to do was go and apologize for his own pigheadedness. While he ends up doing exactly this, it’s as if he can’t muster the effort until he’s once again proven his alpha male status. Of course, it all works out for a happy ending, where assault turns into just desserts and a whirlwind romance rekindles into a whirlwind reconciliation. And then, thank God!, it was over!

This just might be my most hated bottom-dweller, with hardly any redeeming value. The only bright point is the classic country music soundtrack, particularly Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” For reasons beyond my comprehension, my VC and many other critics actually liked the film itself, looking past its unlikable characters and petty squabbling. She tells me that she finds the movie “interesting for its dysfunctional lifestyle” and as compelling to watch as a car accident, while I’d prefer just to not look at all. I don’t plan to ever see Urban Cowboy again; I have much better things to do than watch white trash with superficial, totally screwed-up priorities cheating on each other.

Best line: (Bud) “All cowboys ain’t dumb. Some of ’em got smarts real good, like me.”

VC’s best line:  (Bud’s Uncle Bob) “You know, Bud, sometimes even a cowboy’s gotta swallow his pride to hold on to somebody he loves.”  (Bud) “What do you mean?”   (Uncle Bob) “Hell, I know I pretty near lost Corrine and the kids a couple of times just ’cause of pride. You know, you think that ol’ pride’s gonna choke you going down, but I tell you what, ain’t a night goes by I don’t thank the Boss up there for giving me a big enough throat.”


© 2015 S. G. Liput

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