Saturday, November 16, 2013

Urban Cowboy--a critical analysis

Urban Cowboy—a critical analysis
(if that's not a paradox, I don't know what is)

I am not sure what possessed me to do it. Was it the award-winning soundtrack?  Was it my one-time affection for fine fitting Wrangler jeans? Perhaps it was the fact that I was never allowed to watch it as a kid. Whatever the reason, last night I took a detour from my usual shrewd regimen and sunk below the depths of honky-tonk hell, watching every last raunchy minute of the once popular movie Urban Cowboy. As a result, my IQ suffered a (minimum) ten-point drop. In addition, it left me feeling a little dirty and wondering how on earth this particular film was ever deemed a pop sensation with its PG rating.

Set in the late seventies when bras were optional, bad hair was in abundance, and the phrase “Woman, make me a sandwich” was a socially acceptable imperative, Urban Cowboy offers its viewers a detailed account of what happens when two people who have the maturity (and vocabulary) of seventh graders are allowed to marry.

In case it has been a few decades since you've had the privilege of viewing this piece, allow me to refresh your memory. Bud Davis (played by John Travolta) moves from a small Texas town to a thriving industrial Houston in search of a good-paying job and a new life. Thanks to his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin), Bud quickly secures employment and is introduced to the iconic Gilly's bar and nightclub where most of the movie's action (and I do mean action) takes place. It is there Bud meets Sissy (played by Deborah Winger), a tough talking tow truck driver who has an affection for tank tops and an aversion to wearing bras. After their first dance, which is seemingly conjugal, Bud and Sissy fluctuate between flirting and fighting for a few days before deciding to wed. From there the flirting and fighting escalate and the flippant use of the middle finger begins. Can you feel your IQ dropping yet? Bear with me, it's about to get worse.

A substantial rift forms between the two when Sissy out rides Bud on a mechanical bull--the new nightlife attraction at Gilly's. Both characters take this opportunity to capitalize on one another's jealousy by hooking up with someone else: Bud with a beautiful, wealthy bar slummer (who shares his wife's aversion to bra wearing), and Sissy with an ex-con who satisfies her quest to find a “real cowboy.” After a series of overtly ridiculous, jealous-inducing incidents, the two lovers reconcile when Bud proves his cowboy prowess by winning the mechanical bull riding contest. His celebration is cut short, however, when he discovers that Sissy has been smacked around by her new guy (played by Scott Glenn). In true redneck fashion, Bud beats the crap out of his wife's boyfriend and the formerly estranged lovers live happily ever after.

In the end, viewers are left with this astute observation regarding life and relationships : If ever faced with the dilemma of deciding between two losers, a woman should always choose the better dancer over the man who hits her the hardest. If they happen to be the same person, a new dilemma arises, in which case, said woman must take matters into her own hands, choosing the "company" of a mechanical bull over either aforementioned losers.

After the credits rolled I wasn't sure if I should laugh, cry, or just take a shower and beg forgiveness for wasting two precious hours of my life viewing the world through a trailer trash lens. Baffled, I began to reflect on life in the late seventies and early eighties, drawing comparisons to our society today. That's when the film's appeal started making sense, sort of.

If this movie were released today, a few changes would need to be made in order for contemporary audiences to relate: a fully furnished, three-bedroom starter home would replace Bud and Sissy's double-wide because two newlyweds with decent paying jobs are entitled to life in suburbia (or so say the banks of today). Likewise, the use of credit cards (perhaps government issued) would allow Sissy to buy more groceries to keep her man happy and the excess cash could then be used to purchase more cigarettes, tattoos, and upgraded cell service. A subplot revolving around Uncle Bob's death would also need to be added, wherein Bud and Sissy encourage Bob's widow to file a wrongful death suit and take the company for all its worth. And for that matter, Bud's arm breaking incident could also provide a look into today's healthcare and insurance coverage (or lack thereof). On a lighter note, the braless beauties in the film would have to discover Victoria's Secret, squeezing every ounce of their back and belly fat forward and upward until it seemingly becomes part of their "pushed up" cleavage and obnoxiously overflows from their spaghetti-strap tank tops. And finally, as with all films depicting the lower echelons of today's society, the f-word would need to present itself in every other sentence—functioning as no less than five of the eight parts of speech.

(The original music, nice truck, and ridiculous cowboy shirts, however, could stay.)

Once I considered the changes necessary for this film to survive in our current society, I realized that the (1980) Urban Cowboy I missed out on as a child, speaks volumes about a time when the lines between white trash and middle class were distinct, and both sides seemed happy to be a part of the group with which they associated. Neither made apologies for who they were, nor did they overspend and incur debt they had
no intention of paying off in an effort to pretend they were somehow upper class. So, unfortunately, the answer to the question, Could this film possibly get any worse? is Yes. Yes, it can.

I know, I am probably giving the film far too much credit in an effort to justify watching (and now writing about) it because let's be honest, as Americans, we don't really seem to care about the quality of a movie's moral message, especially when it features a little bit of love, some smooth dancing, and a killer soundtrack.

That said, I hope anyone considering a remake of Urban Cowboy will ponder the disastrous re-creations of GreaseFootloose, and (soon) Dirty Dancing and just say NO! Some things--like a hairy John Travolta lying spread eagle in bed, hiding his essentials with nothing more than an ice pack--are better left alone...

Excuse me now, I gotta go make my man a sandwich.