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« TIFF: "The Two Popes" is a Gentle Giant | Main | What will win Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys? »
Wednesday
Sep112019

Soundtracking: Coyote Ugly

by Chris Feil

Few modern soundtracks distill the essence of a film as wonderfully as Coyote Ugly. In the vein of Flashdance and its ilk, the film follows a creative young woman as she navigates a world of male objectification. It takes its name from the famous bar featuring hot chicks serving booze to cheering men and plops Piper Perabo’s heroine Violet in that environment as she chases her songwriting dreams. But instead of the Hooters brand of male-defined sexuality that immediately comes to mind, this bar finds the women in power of their male audience. The musical world of Coyote Ugly revels as much in the girl power as it operates around (and subverts) male gaze, thanks especially to a few great originals by LeAnn Rimes.

The film reflects the male gaze musically while we’re inside Coyote Ugly, but there is a representational distance between the film’s perspective and that of the music and the crowd. As you might expect, this sports bar environment comes to life with arena rock like EMF’s “Unbelievable” or Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. Perhaps nothing dates the film like how it earnestly utilizes a Kid Rock song as some kind of crowd pleasing romp, nevertheless turning it into an ironic pseudo-wet t-shirt spectacle that classifies the rocker as a certain brand of male sleaziness these bartenders are subtly subverting.

But there is also a winking specificity to how they are used. Even as the bartenders dance for the crowd to songs that sound like melodic male gaze, the film shows a power in manipulating the audience and of performance. When a rowdy crowd turns on the bar, it’s Violet that coyly returns them and their wallets to the palm of her hand. And she does so by performing Blondie’s “One Way or Another”, Debbie Harry being one of the most notable indulgers and subverters of male lust. It’s above all a power play that Violet’s audience doesn’t realize they have succumbed to.

But the star of Coyote Ugly’s musical show are its originals. The film’s surest way of getting us to root for Violet’s musical success is to gift her with songs all written by the legendary hitmaker Diane Warren. The songwriter is one of our key legendary but Oscar-less craftspeople, and it’s quite possible that Coyote Ugly’s songs weren’t initially written for the film. But can you argue that 2000‘s Oscar winning original song Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” is better (or better utilized in Wonder Boys) than “Can’t Fight the Moonlight”? Answering yes might be the difference between being a Coyote Ugly patron and one of its bartenders.

Though “Right Kind of Wrong” at least deserves equal stature as a great pop song written for this film, “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” is an enduring pop classic twenty years on. It’s the kind of hyper-feminine, unpretentious confection that’s all too underestimated by demonstratively serious-minded thinking, not unlike the film itself. A distillation of the film’s energy and a pop treasure that you can’t even try to resist.

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Reader Comments (4)

Such a guilty pleasure.

Dare I say this won my own Best Supporting Actress award for Maria Bello ;-)

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

Still a shitty film with a very discomforting cameo from ugh... Michael Bay as a photographer.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

“Can’t Fight the Moonlight” is my favorite Diane Warren song. The gorgeous melody instantly transports me back to my youth and makes my heart ache with nostalgia.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMJ

Wasn’t this film released sometime before 9/11?
I saw it after 9/11 and it’s setting seemed like a completely different world.

September 12, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

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