John GoodmanMaria BelloTyra BanksBud Cort
Coyote Ugly
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: David McNally
Writer: Gina Wendkos
Actor: Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia, John Goodman, Maria Bello, Izabella Miko, Tyra Banks, Bridget Moynahan, Melanie Lynskey, Del Pentecost, Michael Weston, LeAnn Rimes, Jeremy Rowley, Ellen Cleghorne, John Fugelsang, Bud Cort
Country: USA
Format: 107 minutes (director's cut), 100 minutes (theatrical cut)
Website category: Other
Review date: 15 June 2012
I've seen sneering reviews of this and I'm at a bit of a loss as to why, although in fairness it has plenty of fans too. I suspect it helps to be female. Personally for a while I found it slightly repellent, in the literal sense that during the film's first act it's not much fun watching our loser protagonist spiralling down through an ever-deepening spiral of loserdom, but I think this has clouded some critical faculties. It's fine. I liked it.
It's based on a real story, by the way. The first Coyote Ugly Saloon opened in 1993, named after the experience of waking up after a one-night stand to find you pulled someone so ugly that you'd now gnaw off your limb like a trapped coyote in order to get away. Charming. Well, that's the kind of establishment this is. It was founded by a lady called Liliana Lovell, who specialised in hiring bar staff who'd dance on the bar while singing, challenge customers to drinking contests or occasionally set fire to things. There's no nudity, but our first view of the place makes stripping look more wholesome. This movie is based on an autobiographical book by the author Elizabeth Gilbert, who was once a Coyote bartender.
Our heroine is played by Piper Perabo and she wants to be a songwriter. The film begins with her quitting her life in New Jersey in order to move to New York and chase her dream. Everyone thinks she's going to fail, although they express this in their own ways, then ten minutes later we're convinced too. Perabo runs into the brick wall of receptionists who are almost brilliant in their mastery of the Art of Unhelpfulness, makes a fool of herself and generally fails at everything.
Before long she stumbles upon a job opportunity. She accepts it without first asking any questions, e.g. "what does the job involve?" and "are you psychopaths?". Thus does the film embark upon Act Two.
All this is pretty good, in its way. The plot is predictable once you're past the first half-hour or so, but it's still a fun tale of a reasonably likeable character who's managed to get in way over her head. Obviously the job's going to transform her confidence. Working as a Coyote, you'll either find your inner exhibitionist or just go mad and start shooting people at random in the street. The problem is simply that the film's first act feels as if we're watching Perabo crash and burn in slow-motion. It's uncomfortable. She's a nice girl, but she's basically embarking on the evil flipside of a "follow your dream" story. After a while her life stabilises a bit and we even start to believe that she might, in time, stop resembling a loser, but I'd have ditched the film long before that if Perabo hadn't been so likeable. She's a nice girl.
The two actors here you're most likely to have heard of are Maria Bello (ER, A History of Violence) and the mighty John Goodman (Roseanne, Coen Brothers movies... well, everything, basically). The women are all stunning, but the only one I'd heard of was Tyra Banks (Halloween: Resurrection) and the material isn't often offering much scope for subtlety anyway. They're really good at what they're being asked to do, though. I couldn't do improvised dance numbers on a bar top surrounded by screaming drunks and look at once scary and insanely hot while doing so. Seriously, these are roles that most people couldn't pull off, but they do so in spades, so thumbs up there. Izabella Miko is the most memorable, although that's probably because she's playing the most rampant exhibitionist and going for it in style.
John Goodman though, needless to say, is awesome as Perabo's protective slob of a father. Apparently test audiences all said they wanted more of him, so the filmmakers shot more scenes with him. This was an excellent decision and he's easily the best thing in the movie. Incidentally a major role here goes to Adam Garcia, an Australian actor and tap dancer who apparently played Penelope Wilton's aide in The Christmas Invasion. He's quite good.
There's a PG-13 theatrical cut of the film and an R-rated unrated DVD that came out in 2005 and runs about six minutes longer. I watched the latter, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. There's a sex scene for which they used a body double and of course plenty of hot women, but it's tame if you're looking for nudity (mild) or violence (nope).
Financially, the film was a success. It opened at number 4 in the U.S. box office charts, behind Space Cowboys, Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and Hollow Man. The critics panned it, but to be honest I think its worst crime is to fall in a grey zone between slightly unconvincing reality and slightly unconvincing Hollywood plotting, with the former sometimes seeming the more groanworthy because real life doesn't always conform to Robert McKee's guidelines. I can live with that. It's got hot girls and a ton of energy. It made me cringe a bit, but I appreciate the story of a kind, somewhat shy heroine being brought out of her shell in an extreme fashion. It's always nice to see someone gain confidence. Besides, John Goodman made me laugh.
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, which seems surprising. Personally I thought it was pushing me away slightly, but still a good film.