16 April 2008 | Quinoa1984
an above-average rom-com script crossbred with juicy pulp fiction, great stuff
Why can't more romantic comedies be like this? This question came to me while watching Something Wild, a little sleeper from the mid 80s from Jonathan Demme about a seemingly typical 80s NY businessman, Charlie (Jeff Daniels) who gets whisked away by a 'free-spirit' "Lulu" (Melanie Griffith). Well, probably because most people who watch the very typical romantic comedies probably don't watch it for the same reasons that those who love Something Wild do. There's maybe something to keep going through the dirge of crap that are among the films of decades and decades of romantic comedies, but it's finding one of the nuggets that counts (Love Actually, from 2003, is another one for example). And, perhaps, there might be a darker sensibility, or more thought put into it, in enjoying Something Wild.
It's a lot like Id-gone-Wild, in a sense. In the world of Something Wild, we're brought along with characters on a situation that would seem surreal on a Bunuel level (i.e. bourgeois brought along into the realm of sin and desire by some free-will temptress of the 'lower depths'), but there's a reality to it, a kind of down-to-earth level about the characters- and, more importantly for this, the actors playing them- and it elevates it past being either too strange or just too quirky. It's just about right, which is tough to dol you feel like cringing as Lulu calls up Charlie's boss while teasing him incredibly in the midst of kinky sex, but it's also so funny in how it all comes together that you just don't care, at least, enough, that it's anarchic.
So while it's enjoyable, at least on first sight, as a sort of freewheeling existentialist romp, like a French sex comedy clipped over on the 80s 'greed-is-good' motto, it has dark undertones that soon get darker and darker, thanks to Ray Liotta's Ray, who is Lulu/Audrey's real husband. At this point we feel like we're suddenly plopped into a pulp fiction piece, with the ex-con bad-ass going to town against the would-be rebel and his girl gone awry. But at the same time, for what Demme and his wonderful screenwriter have, it all works. What helps exponentially (if that's the word) is that Demme doesn't stray either into anything not honest within the boundaries of this situation. It might seem like a risk people wouldn't take in real life, or that the violence is pumped up to, again, pulp fiction territory, but in the logic of the piece- of the tricky deceit and the push-and-pull of the triangle of Charlie/Audrey/Ray- it's just awesomely achieved.
Again, the performances are a big asset to the film's suceess. Daniels matches very well that line between playing it innocent and the straight-shooter, the guy we're supposed to identify with as stuck middle-class citizens with families and green lawns, and as a rebel who just has to let some free will into his system now and again. Griffith is in one of her very best, not acting too precocious or annoying, and conveying in the little bits of 'regular' Audrey (i.e. the scene at her mother's) that there's more than meets the eye. And Liotta is so great that it's probably no wonder that he (maybe unfortunately) got typecast as a psycho. There's actually complexity that Liotta gets to, and in a way doesn't make Ray totally unlikeable; he is the villain, of course, but there's a charm that is like the ID unraveled completely as a guy who shoots guns, robs stores, and hits on girls whenever he can. All three make up such a terrific combo here.
It's crazy, it's awkward, it's a rip-roaring time, and it's even got heart too. For those who are tired of spoon-fed tripe by the studios, it's an excellent escape into one of the most unconventional (but most pleasantly genre-tastic) of the past 25 years