Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2011)
Perhaps I’m alone, but I always got Something Wild and After Hours confused. Both offered rather similar stories/characters, both came out with 13 months of each other in 1985 and 1986, and both were directed by notable American filmmakers. Heck, I associate the two so closely that I thought I’d already reviewed Wild!
Nope – this screening of the 1986 flick stands as my first in years. I doubt I’ve seen Something Wild since 1987 or 1988. I thought 1985’s After Hours was one of Martin Scorsese’s worst flicks, so I’m curious to decide if Wild deserves such a spot in Jonathan Demme’s Hall of Shame.
Buttoned-down on the outside, yuppie businessman Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) maintains a mild inner rebellious streak that he lets out with action such as an occasional eat and dash. When he skips out on a check at a diner, fellow customer Lulu (Melanie Griffith) chases after him and calls him out on his crime.
She does this mostly for kicks, though, as she doesn’t care about his action. Instead, Lulu offers Charles a ride back to work – and promptly kidnaps him. Even though he’s married with kids, they end up at a motel for some passion, and they continue on a romp that leads them into a number of adventures – as well as growing affection for each other.
Despite all the similarities I mentioned earlier, I had higher hopes for Something Wild over After Hours just because the tale seems like a better match for Demme than for Scorsese, at least as pursued in these films. Both go for such a 1980s New Wave feel that they’re much closer to Demme’s style than Scorsese’s, so if anyone should pull off the material, Demme should be the man.
Or maybe not. Perhaps I’m just not a fan of the “wild woman latches onto repressed guy” field – God knows I hated Harold and Maude, one of the kings of this genre – but I can’t say that I take much enjoyment from Wild.
Though I do think it improves on After Hours, partly because it’s less predictable. The first half follows a pretty typical genre template, but once Lulu’s nutbag ex Ray (Ray Liotta) enters the picture mid-film, it veers off in a different, darker direction.
But is it a more satisfying direction? Yeah, to a degree, but it’s not enough to redeem an overly long, slow movie. A flick like this probably should be quick and breezy; the tone change mid-movie gives it more of an excuse to run more than 90 minutes, but it’s not enough to fill 113 minutes.
The draggy pace is just one problem, though, as the film’s contrived feel is also an issue. When we learn that Charlie is a “closet rebel”, that just comes across like a plot machination to allow us to accept his willingness to go along with Lulu’s escapades. This seems unnecessary, though; we’ve had enough movies like this to swallow the stretch in logic, so we don’t need any kind of explanation. If anything, the attempt to validate Charlie’s embrace of his adventure hurts the character, as this choice feels so tacked on and gratuitous.
It doesn’t help that Wild usually doesn’t feel all that wild. Most of the shenanigans seem tame and without much pizzazz. Really, running out of a restaurant without paying a check – again – is a big set piece?
Wild attempts to give us something deeper than just wacky capers, though, as it includes the blossoming relationship between Charlie and Lulu. This doesn’t really work, as it’s never particularly clear what they see in each other. They grow to love each other because the movie says they should, not because of any clear natural reason.
At least the flick boasts a good cast – well, some of it, that is. I like Daniels, and Liotta delivers a typically unhinged turn as a psycho, but I can’t get past Griffith’s wooden performance. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any work from her that impressed me, and she continues to come across as stiff and forced here. She never presents herself as a natural person. Griffith always feels like she’s Consciously Acting – and Consciously Acting poorly.
Even with a better lead actress, though, I don’t think Something Wild would’ve been much more interesting. I like its willingness to subvert genre expectations, but it doesn’t do much beyond that. It’s too long and too slow to keep us with it.