The uneventful life of the businessman Charles Driggs suddenly changes when he meets the wild and sexy Lulu. When he accepts her offer to drive him back to his office, she instead takes him out of town and on a trip, leaving behind his old life. Posing as a married couple, Charles and "Audrey" (which turns out to be Lulu's real name) visit her mother and her high school reunion. At this reunion they meet Audrey's violent ex-husband Ray, who has just released from prison. When Ray makes it clear that he wants Audrey back, that is when the real trouble begins.Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
Let the Big Dog Eat
Written by Bill Wharton
Performed by Bill Wharton
Courtesy of Peckerwood Records See more »
**** (Out of four)
Jeff Daniels has been the type of actor whose films are always shown on "The Late Late Movie". His career has been built as playing the normal guy in increasingly odder movies. He's taken on the B-movie genre ("Arachnophobia"), trippy cult sci-fi ("Disaster in Time"), nostalgia-fueled Woody Allen comedies ("The Purple Rose of Cairo"), and even the occasional abominable romance ("Love Stinks", "The Butcher's Wife"). And then there's "Something Wild", a film which defies any possible classification. It's a love story, a road movie, a thriller, a comedy of errors, an 80's movie and most of all, it's a Jonathan Demme movie.
Made in 1986, the film has a logical kind of pre-thinking which is both subtle and amazing. Daniels plays Charlie Driggs, an uptight New York City businessman whose life goes into overdrive when he meets "Lulu" (Melanie Griffith), a wacky free spirit with a pair of handcuffs, a bottle of Scotch and a sexuality which seems to be inspired not by the Madonna-esque charades of the time but on past screen legends as Louise Brooks and Mae West. After meeting in a corner restaurant where it seems all of the customers have their own interesting stories to tell, Demme and screenwriter E. Max Frye focus on these two people and the various destinies their meeting awaits, the least of which involves Lulu's ex-husband (Ray Liotta), fresh out of prison and demanding an explanation for Lulu's fading love for him.
Of course I'm making this film seem like another one of those standard Hollywood claptraps. Yet it's not. Together with regular cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, Demme plunges us into a world which seems at first like a homespun portrait of Americana, complete with minor characters who seem to have life beyond the screen (the Motel Philosopher; John Waters' crooked car salesman; Charlie's protege and his very pregnant, very introverted wife; Lulu's unexpectedly wise mother). Later, however, the film uses its keen sense of characterization to subtly show the effects of the various kindnesses of strangers (the gas-station attendant, the little girl outside the church, a naive teen named Tracy). All of this is done in a style that is both unique and mesmerizing, as Demme keeps shifting the gears of his story so the audience doesn't know what will happen next.
And then there's the Liotta character. This is one of the great supporting performances of contemporary cinema, as Liotta's presence lets another dimension of atmosphere pervade its way through this already quirky film,lifting it beyond the ranks into greatness. Displaying a level of intelligence which is both dangerous and striking, Liotta conjures up a performance which he would later reprise in Jonathan Kaplan's inferior "Unlawful Entry", a film which, unfortunately, did considerably better at the box office than this one. Nevertheless, Liotta proves exactly what Scorsese saw in him when he was casting "Goodfellas": his smarmy underhandedness and sneaky intrusions would prove similar to those he would display playing Henry Hill in that Mafia masterpiece.
Another one of "Something Wild"'s many strengths is its soundtrack. The film contains many of what I have described as "30-second rock interludes", but in this case, it's done with so much style and cinematic know-how that it does not take away from the story. Instead, Demme uses the stereotype that many of his MTV-obsessed colleagues employed and turns it on its head. Instead of using music for music's sake, Demme uses an eclectic mix of reggae (Sister Carol, Jimmy Cliff, UB40), oldies (many performed by the Feelies during the reunion sequence), and Laurie Anderson and John Cale's solo guitar riff and blends the sound to the images so it looks as if the film is being told by a pseudo-Greek chorus of African-American subculture which stands apart from this story of libidos and materialism run awry.
This film is shown on Comedy Central many, many times. However, it has been severely edited due to commercial restraints and is also shown during the wrong time of day. This is a midnight movie, a film which is meant to be discovered while flipping the dials on your television set during restless bouts of insomnia. Like "Blade Runner" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", this cult movie feeds upon a nocturnal atmosphere and is as a result all the more effective. I haven't even mentioned Griffith's performance, which is her best, even better than "Working Girl". Her squeaky voice and demeanor hints at oceans of emotion behind this problematic woman, and you find yourself caring for this mismatched couple even as Liotta terrorizes the screen. "Friends?" Liotta asks Daniels, manipulating his thoughts so easily that Daniels hardly knows what to say or what to do. The audience sits spellbound, experiencing the same degree of uncertainty over this eccentrically exquisite movie.
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