Thursday, March 30, 2017

Something Wild

In the middle to late 1980s director Jonathan Demme created a pair of quirky, entertaining treks through  American landscapes distinguished mainly by their kitsch.  Movies with well developed characters to match the vividness of their surroundings.  The tackiness of mafia culture in NYC and Miami was explored in 1988's highly entertaining MARRIED TO THE MOB.  Two years earlier, Demme took us on a dynamic journey called SOMETHING WILD, somewhat edgier.

It is an apt title for such a colorful movie featuring Jeff Daniels as a button downed businessman named Charlie who succumbs to a mysterious kook in a dark wig named Lulu (Melanie Griffith). He follows her after a dine and dash. They spar and flirt.  He tells her he's married.   Everything happens so quickly.  One minute Charlie is with his new friend on the streets of Manhattan, seemingly the next he's handcuffed to a motel bed for an illicit afternoon encounter.  Soon after, he finds himself meeting Lulu's mother in another state.

Demme exhibits a fun, near anarchic spirit in these early scenes.  A real sense that anything can happen.  It's exhilirating to watch a movie that is so unpredictable, so filled with energy.   Perhaps we feel a bit like Charlie. We enjoy funny cameos by film directors John Waters and John Sayles as a used car salesman and motorcycle cop, respectively.   But SOMETHING WILD isn't all kookiness and light.  Reality begins to expose itself like a Polaroid.  Lulu admits her real name is Audrey. When she eventually drags Charlie to her high school reunion, her ex-sweetheart Ray (Ray Liotta, in his debut) is there, seemingly a nice guy but even in the earliest moments you know there is malevolence behind that smile.

The remainder of the movie takes some dark turns.  The events are dominated by Ray's character, a psychotic and dangerous criminal, none too pleased to see his old girl with Charlie. E. Max Frye's script transforms into, well, something wild(er), albeit in a more traditional, even melodramatic way.  Some complained that the movie became too routine by the time Ray arrives, but I think Demme shifts gears with great skill, orchestrating a curious dream that morphs into a nightmare.  If you view this in some moralistic fashion, a cautionary tale perhaps, you might come away with a different picture than I did.  I found a guy's metamorphosis, a crazy trip with some wisdom to be gained along the way.

The actors are all fine, but special mention must go to Liotta.  What an explosive, complex performance. Maybe little boy innocence at odds with adolescent to adult rage. Wild insecurity but with a disarming charm that can melt away in a millisecond.   By the time he gets into an argument with people in the next room through a hotel wall, you're witnessing the birth of a star.

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