A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that City Slickers is a 1991 comedy in which three New Yorkers having midlife crises go west to take part in a cattle run that goes awry. The main characters get involved in life-threatening situations, such as being gored by a bull and almost dying in a rushing river. Heavy drinking leads to the death of two horses and the maiming of a minor character, as well as a fistfight and threats to kill a calf. There's talk of how Curly once killed a man in a knife fight, and "slit him from neck to nuts." One of the lead characters is caught having an affair with a woman half his age who believes she is pregnant because of their affair. The three lead characters make lewd comments about the only woman taking part in the cattle run. There's cigarette smoking, and one of the characters chews tobacco. Two cowboys, very drunk, sexually harass a woman. Cursing includes "s--t," bitch," "goddamn," "f--got," "t-ts," "ass," "crap," and "balls."
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What's the story?
On his 39th birthday, Mitch (Billy Crystal) wakes up bored with his job, listless with his family, and obsessed with the pointlessness of his life. Luckily and comically, Mitch has two childhood best friends who drag him to all the clichéd male bonding rituals: skydiving, running with the bulls in Pamplona, etc. And as a special birthday treat, they surprise Mitch with a childhood fantasy come true. They're going to be cowboys for a week and drive cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. At the dude ranch, Mitch and friends Ed (Bruno Kirby) and Phil (Daniel Stern) meet crusty old cowboy Curly (Jack Palance); learn to ride horses, much to their nether regions' distress; and learn some cowboy wisdom. But when Curly's gone and the other professional cowboys vamoose, can Mitchy the Kidd and his gang bring the herd home safely? And what will happen when they return home?
Is it any good?
This is a true feel-good movie. Modern midlife-crisis comedies are often dark and lecherous: Who could forget Lester's second adolescence and lascivious fantasy about his daughter's teenage friend in American Beauty? Though a good movie, it wasn't family-friendly. So it's heartening to be reminded of CITY SLICKERS, a movie about a midlife crisis that neither blames the family for Dad's unhappiness nor resorts to exploiting teenage girls so he can reclaim his mojo. City Slickers is the rare movie that rings true for adults but doesn't alienate kids. And veteran actor Jack Palance won an Oscar for his arresting performance as Curly.
Instead of fleeing from their fears by acquiring younger women (well, with the exception of Phil) or sports cars, the guys use the trip to share their deepest feelings -- but they're on horses in the wild, so it's OK. Robert Bly would be proud. When they return home to their mates, they aren't teenagers, but rather grown men who appreciate what they have.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies centered on midlife crises. How does this compare to other "coming of middle-age" movies?
A "high-concept" movie is one that can be easily explained to anyone in a few words. City Slickers, for instance, would be "city guys try to be cowboys." What are some other examples of high-concept movies?
How did the movie convey its overall theme of finding the "one thing"?
- In theaters: January 1, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: May 8, 2001
- Cast: Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, Daniel Stern
- Director: Ron Underwood
- Studio: MGM/UA
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: language and thematic elements.
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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