Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: E. Max Frye
Starring: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta
Released: 1986 / Genre: Comedy-Drama / Country: USA / IMDB
Something Wild marks director Jonathan Demme’s pre-Silence Of The Lambs period of filmmaking, with a touching comedy about romance in an eighties materialistic America. Lulu (Melanie Griffith) latches on to clean cut, workaholic Charlie (Jeff Daniels) and takes him on a sex-filled, no holds barred romp in the suburbs of New York. Charlie doesn’t resist his chance to get away from the obsessed, career driven world he finds himself locked in, inside the city, and goes along with Lulu’s ploy to pretend that he is her husband at her high school reunion. However, things take a turn for the worse when ex-convict, and old flame to Lulu makes an appearance, and he wants his girl back.
The career-driven lead Charlie is the everyman. Money and success have fueled his will to live like many people, but in the wider picture, it seems there’s much more to life, and much more to living that life in happiness. While he sits alone in a diner, being polite with the waitress, and content that his house is paid for, his job is safe and a promotion is not far away. He seeks something more, something different, or maybe, in the grand scheme of things, he craves for something less. We first meet Charlie as he is caught casually walking away from the diner without paying. A ‘closet rebel’ Lulu tells him. In a way, Charlie wants to be caught, because being caught would make him feel alive, but what happens is he finds himself and his heart in the palm of an alluring woman who has simply swept him off his feet.
“I just like big things between my legs.”
Lulu’s spontaneity, her freedom and the mystery of her character is what Charlie falls for, yet as an audience we don’t immediately despise her for gaining the affections of a married man, nor do we question Charlie’s will power or his love for his supposed wife. As a matter of fact, you want Charlie to just go along with it, knowing that his miserable prior existence can only get better. Lulu offers him the chance of a ‘wild side’, neatly anchored by the song ‘Wild Thing’ which is played in different forms throughout the film. A sense of adventure, and a reminder of his younger days is what she gives him (the seventies songs, the clothes she dresses him in, and the seventies themed high school reunion), while he in turn gives her something to hope for.
Both actors finds themselves immersed in the roles, and the film just wouldn’t work without Griffith and Daniels working as the characters they portray. Daniels gets the doe-eyed look of ‘butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth (but I wish it would)’ just right. His closed-minded innocence begins to crack at the correct moments, and he always delivers the more amusing dialogue with great comic timing. Griffith gives Lulu a true, strong mentality that goes against the simple stereotypes, and makes sure the character never becomes just a cog in a man’s world. The film is as much about her, as it is about Charlie. While it is she who whisks him off into newfound territory, she begins to learn more about herself as he does of himself.
You can almost picture being on the set, as director Demme tells Daniels to act as if he is a thirty-year old virgin during a hilarious six-minute sex scene. The director gets most things right throughout, almost portraying a time travel-like car ride out of the city as the pair venture from an eighties materialism to a seventies idealist world Lulu’s individualist clothes, and the gradual change in the sort of music that blares out from her car radio are a couple of the ways in which the film creates this. Demme knows where to find the laughs and keeps any remnant of sentimentality well away until just a smattering is called for.
However, the film could have fallen to its knees had the mid-narrative diversion into ‘here’s Jonny!’ style, ‘I’m the just-out-of-jail nut-job husband and I’ve arrived to crash the party’ entrance of Ray Liotta’s character, failed to glue successfully to the film’s opening half. Thankfully, and with all the thanks going to the ever-reliable Liotta, it doesn’t fall down, and his welcome into the plot is judged perfectly by the actor. With a lesser actor in the role, Demme’s film may have shown a distinct weakness, with the comedy and hard-edged violence sitting uncomfortably, but the soon-to-be Goodfellas star bridges the gap with genuine ease. The low-key, lurid underside to living a life outside of recognized, accepted conventions is what Charlie has to face, and what Lulu has to live with, and while it contrasts greatly with the first half of the film, it works perfectly and perhaps shows the director and the actors portraying their best work.
Something Wild is a wonderful film that encapsulates love and romance, innocence and lost youth, happiness and a sense of adventure. It throws them all together in the guise of a road movie and invites the audience to enjoy the ride, from hilarious comedy to poetic, heartwarming drama. The principle cast are all superb, Demme is at his hip and upbeat best, and the soundtrack scorches with some uplifting tunes from the period.
Review by Daniel Stephens