City Slickers is one of my favourite films. I have always been a big fan of Billy Crystal ever since for my tenth birthday, when my father bought me When Harry Met Sally on VHS. I’m not sure how appropriate that film is for a ten year old, but Crystal’s performance was good enough to let even a ten year old know he was a comedic genius. Not long after that, my dad and I watched City Slickers together. I have a sneaky suspicion that Dad related to this film about dealing with mid-life crises more than I ever did, but this is still a very funny film. My father and I have loved Billy Crystal ever since. We saw his brilliant one man Broadway show 700 Sundays together when he toured Sydney and I recently read his biography, Still Foolin’ ‘Em. It is a fantastic journey through Crystal’s life that I really enjoyed.
Billy Crystal stars as Mitch. He is an unhappy man approaching his 40th birthday. His two best friends (Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern) buy him a vacation on a cattle drive for his birthday where they can live out their childhood dreams of being a cowboy. All three friends have issues in their personal life and feel like this trip away is the answer they’ve been looking for. They arrive in New Mexico for cowboy training, before herding a group of cattle all the way to Colorado. There is a rag tag group of yuppies along for the ride, as well as a few alcoholic cowboys as their guides. Leading the way is the gruff Curly (Jack Palance), who Mitch rubs the wrong way during their first meeting. Palance is great in his Oscar winning role, he is perfect as a masculine cowboy. Eventually, Curly and Mitch develop a relationship and learn a lot from each other. During the cattle drive, their cowboy guides get injured or disappear forcing the amateur city folk to drive the cattle to Colorado on their own.
This film is a lot of fun. Crystal has some brilliant one liners that I still recite today. There is a lot of heart in this film, the writing is great and the odd job cast of characters have perfect chemistry. Especially the three leads. Crystal and Kirby had already played friends before in When Harry Met Sally, Daniel Stern completes the trio and complements Crystal and Kirby well.
This is a very nostalgic favourite for me. I watched this film a lot with my dad growing up and still love it today. It is a very funny film with some great jokes, a positive message, and terrific performances from everyone involved.
I think it’s funny that Ben has such fond memories of watching this with his dad. These are two men who love their creature comforts. I can’t imagine either of them going on a cattle drive like this, though Ben says he’d think it would fun. This is the same guy who could barely handle staying at my grandparent’s house for four days because there was no reliable Internet connection, so forgive me if I find the idea of him taking a vacation without access to a toilet laughable.
But I’m guessing a lot of the love for City Slickers is due to its star, Billy Crystal. Ben loves Billy. He raves about his movies, books, and stage shows. And I get it– Crystal seems like a genuinely nice guy and has some great films in his body of work. He’s also a master of weaving emotional subplots into his comedies, which is exactly what is done here.
This is basically a mid-life crisis movie, so there’s a lot of soul searching mixed in with jokes about how these urbanites are terrible at roughing it. It’s a good combination; most men of Crystal’s generation would have a cowboy fantasy, thinking they could be like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. But they’re called fantasies for a reason– reality is much more work and a lot less fun. During the course of the cattle drive the three main characters realize what is important in life, which for two of them is exactly what they’re coming home to in the end (for the other it’s a woman he meets on the drive, but he’s also getting divorced because he cheated on his wife who is portrayed as one-dimensionally awful). It’s a typical “the grass is always greener” moral, but it works well here.