How does one even begin to describe the films John Travolta made in the late 1970s and early 1980s? The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive may be remembered more as “what were we thinking, loving this?” films than total classics, that’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable. Grease is still beloved to many a movie-goer, myself included (though I was a mere twinkle in the eye of my parents when it was released).
Urban Cowboy falls somewhere between Grease and the rest of Travolta’s films of this period. It comes nowhere near the greatness of the pseudo-’50s musical in which Travolta rides off into the sunset in a flying car, but it is certainly a gem in its own way.
Travolta stars as Bud, a country boy who moves to the big ol’ city in Texas and gets into the bar scene. He meets a pretty little lady and falls in love with her. Complications arise in their relationship, and in their lives in general, when mechanical bulls and Scott Glenn get involved.
Maybe it’s my fondness for bad Travolta movies, or maybe it’s my half-Southern upbringing, but I really enjoyed watching this film.
There are many reasons I could hate on it. The performances are sub-par, with star Travolta’s delivery becoming laughable at some points. It’s a bit slow-moving. It stereotypes Southerners (and particularly Texans) in just about every way it can.
However, it does have a few things going it. It’s got a good villain, and a plot that’s just silly enough to work. There are a few unpredictable twists, particularly relating to Scott Glenn’s character.
The greatest thing about it is, undoubtedly, the music. It gives a great glimpse into what country music was during the late ’70s and early ’80s, an interesting era wedged between the great sounds of Johnny Cash/Merle Haggard/all of the “kings” of country and the pop-infused tunes that most people consider to be “country” today.
The soundtrack boasts the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Bob Seger and Jimmy Buffett. The fantastic Charlie Daniels himself even makes an appearance in the film as one of the bar’s live acts.
If you’re looking for a masterpiece, this is not the place to look. In fact, I suggest you steer far from mainstream 1970s and 1980s films entirely. But if you’re looking for a country music-infused film that grips the edge of the corny cliff but is a fun watch, give Urban Cowboy a try. The score: 3/5