Movie Review: Something Wild (1986)


Seen: On dvd on our projector, borrowed from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

When dweeby, nondescript businessman Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) meets the unpredictable Lulu (Melanie Griffith), he finds himself thrown into a wild weekend road trip in which his outlook on life and his reasons for existence are called into question. They meet in a restaurant where he intentionally doesn’t pay because petty crimes give him a thrill, and she calls him on it, and he accepts a ride from her back to the office for some reason. She essentially kidnaps him, wins him over with kinky sex and kleptomania, and then convinces him to pose as her husband for her high school reunion. When her dangerous ex Ray (Ray Liotta) enters the picture, their adventure turns sour.

I have to admit, for about the first half hour or so I was disappointed by Something Wild, seeing only a typical “Privileged White Guy Falls for Manic Pixie Dream Girl” type of movie, and also bummed there wasn’t more of an actual road trip. Melanie Griffith’s character seemed so one-dimensional, just a collection of impetuous quirks wrapped up in gaudy jewelry, while Jeff Daniels’ character was insufferable- a timid super-square who seemed to be cheating on his wife for no reason. It all felt sort of cliched and boring, despite the talents of its leads and the great music (David Byrne, hello!). Luckily, as the film progresses, it reveals itself to be much more than I had initially thought.

Sure, Something Wild relies on a now-familiar formula to establish its central relationship, but as it moves from the story of a man who is assumed to be nothing more than he appears and a woman who has seemingly severed herself from all worldly cares and attachments, and becomes something more complicated, I became more and more engaged. These characters are not what they appear to be and it takes more than a few drunken joy rides and whimsical outfits to truly cut through their defenses. The addition of Ray Liotta’s sinister criminal Ray is enough to completely twist the film from unconventional quirky-road-trip-romance into dark obsessive drama. The earlier commentary on the shallow yuppie lifestyle and flexibility of the law seems irrelevant in the face of the violence and uncertainty, but it all comes together through the developments of the lead characters, and by the end I was hooked. Plus I loved that closing musical performance from Sister Carol.


Pair This Movie With: Of course, the basic premise (nerdy dude helps wild damsel-in-distress) and director cameos reminded me of Into the Night. But I might instead go with a road movie romance, something like Wristcutters: A Love Story, The Go-Getter, or Fatih Akin’s In July.

PS IMDb says that the two older ladies in the secondhand shop are the moms of Jonathan Demme and David Byrne and I really hope that’s true because oh my gosh ADORABLE.

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