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Insomniac Movie Theater: Coyote Ugly

by Vincent Scarpa on July 7, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

Today’s installment of Insomniac Movie Theater, where we celebrate the best/worst in late-night movie programming comes from contributor Vincent Scarpa. Trevan McGee will be back next week with another not-so-classic.

coyote ugly castMaybe it’s because I’m from Jersey, but I can’t help loving “Coyote Ugly”. The Comcast listing gives it one star, it has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s also one of my favorite movies. These things are not mutually exclusive.

How it makes me feel isn’t easily vocalized. I can’t point a finger and say this movie is great “because.” The thing is, there’s nothing award-winning in the make-up of it–the acting, writing, and directing are all average, if not below average. It’s not thought-provoking and it doesn’t break any new ground.

For these reasons and many more, “Coyote Ugly” is seemingly absent from the entertainment consciousness. It’s never referenced culturally, and it’s rarely re-aired on TV. Which is why I was so thrilled to see it on upcoming listings last week on TBS. I set my DVR immediately.

“Coyote Ugly” is the simple tale of Violet Sanford, (played by the loverly Piper Perabo, meow) a waitress from South Amboy, New Jersey, who wants to make it big as a singer-songwriter in Manhattan, something that the mother she never knew missed the chance to achieve. Her father (John Goodman) gives her hell about it, in that adorable I-don’t-want-my-only-baby-to-leave way (by reading aloud the crime report in the city), but by minute fifteen, Violet’s all moved into her shitty apartment in the city.

coyote ugly 2000 goodmanIt’s a rundown studio that she’s no doubt overpaying for, but there’s a kind of success in her having a set of keys to a place in Manhattan that is unique to New Jersey natives. Best friend Gloria (Melanie Lynskey, that girl from “fill in the blank”) stuffs a wad of cash into Violet’s freezer, just in case.

The first night in her own apartment, a city girl at last, Violet busts out her recording equipment and guitar. All of the music in the film is actually that of LeAnn Rimes (who makes a cameo at the end), but it rings just as true. Her neighbor bangs on the wall everytime Violet sings, so she finds herself on top of her building, making music and overlooking Manhattan. You get the feeling this girl is going to make it, and in a big way.

Of course, it’s not that easy. It’s a 90-minute film. Garnering up a bit of courage, Violet brings her mix tape to a local venue and hands it to Mr. O’Donnell (Adam Garcia), mistaking him as something other than a bus boy. He leads her on a bit, saying that he knows people in the industry, until he’s busted by his boss right in front of her. Embarassed and downtrodden, Violet goes back to her apartment to find that its been broken into. Welcome to New York City!

With the four bucks she has remaining, our protagonist ends up at a diner in the middle of the night. If you’re a believer in the Freytag Pyramid, this is where the dramatic event takes place. Violet is drawn to the foursome of ladies in the back of the diner, wads of money in their hands and high-priced hooker boots on. She assumes that they are prostitutes, but soon learns that they’re Coyotes, which is code for women who dance on tables-slash-bartend-slash-occassionaly strip at a popular bar downtown.

The next day, Violet propositions the owner of the bar, Lil, played brilliantly by a take-no-shit Maria Bello, for a job. Though it isn’t revealed until later in the film, Lil sympathizes (in her tough-as-nails way) with Violet’s small-town naivete and offers her a gig starting that night.Dressed like a kindergarten teacher, Violet makes her way to Coyote Ugly to start her shift, only to discover that she’s far out of her league. She’s slow on the pick up, and cracks under the pressure. Lil has her doubts about Violet, who she renames Jersey, but keeps her around.

Meanwhile, Kevin, formerly Mr. O’Donnell, attempts to get back in Violet’s good graces by getting her a spot on a showcase. It’s here where we learn the central crisis of the film: Violet has stage fright. And while this issue doesn’t rival that of Sophie’s Choice, it’s the big road block in Violet achieving any kind of success. After a late-night practice run with Kevin—which of course leads to sex—she gives it a go.

She makes her way to the microphone without puking, but can’t strum a chord. She apologizes and runs off the stage. It’s sad to watch, painful even, because there’s something remarkably human about the crisis the film poses. What the character wants is to be a successful musician, but the means by which to get there terrify her. What’s more human than that?

But, just like any other story in this vein, of course Violet’s confidence begins to build. During a barfight at Coyote Ugly, she finds herself singing along to Blondie’s “One Way or Another,” and miraculously ends the brawl. We see the very beginning of confidence in Violet, on stage in a ridiculous cheetah skirt way past her knees, and you can’t help but smile for her. She begins writing more, sending out tapes, and lighting a fire under her ass to really make it.I’d keep detailing, but you can predict how the rest goes down, of course. Of course she lands a great gig, wherein she almost chickens out, but then tears down the house. Of course the film ends with real-life LeAnn Rimes buying fictional Violet Sanford’s songs and singing them on top of the bar. Of course Kevin and Violet share a cheesy exchange and kiss before the credits roll, saying something about dreams. I never said this movie had a twist. It’s straightforward, and maybe that’s an easy way out. But what I love about this movie can’t be much different than what people love about “Remember The Titans”— I mean, who doesn’t like to see somebody make it?

Vincent Scarpa

Vincent Scarpa is a graduate of Emerson College, and the recipient of the Norman Mailer Four-Year College Writing Award. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Baltimore Review, and plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing 2011.


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