“Always keep ‘em guessing, Charlie.”
The first half-hour of Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild did not prepare me for its final half-hour; to its credit, everything in between did. It begins with a meet-cute and ends with a murder, and sandwiched in between those emotional extremes are romance, regret and revenge.
Not long after we meet Jeff Daniels’ strait-laced yuppie, Charlie, we meet Lulu, played by Melanie Griffith as perhaps the mother of all Manic Pixie Dream Girls. She spots him dining and dashing at a greasy spoon, threatens to rat him out, offers him a lift to the office instead, and winds up taking Charlie for quite the ride – from his dull life in New York to her hometown in Pennsylvania. It isn’t long before she’s handcuffing him to hotel beds for unbridled sex, forcing him to call the office with excuses for his absence and goading him into running out on more expensive meals than that measly greasy spoon lunch of his.
“What are you doing?” he asks her. “I’m setting you free,” she replies. “Well, maybe I don’t want to be free.” “Maybe you’re not.” No, Charlie isn’t off the hook just yet. Lulu – scratch that, now it’s Audrey – wants Charlie to pass as her husband for her mother’s sake, and he gamely plays along (although Mom knows what’s up). The more he learns to stand out, the more she wants to blend in. Naturally, Audrey wants him to keep up the charade at her high school reunion, but once he bumps into a co-worker and she bumps into her real husband, the recently sprung Ray (Ray Liotta in his first major role), it becomes apparent that neither knows quite where this relationship will take them next…
Something Wild comes on a bit strong at first, as opposites attract and Demme crams in as many colorful characters as he can, not to mention a soundtrack every bit as exuberant as Lulu is eccentric. We can only watch the reliably affable Daniels balk at her behavior so many times, and between Griffith’s squeaky voice and loud jewelry, it’s all a bit much. Once our protagonist begins to surrender to the role-play, though, Wild becomes an amiable, loose road movie, and then – once Ray arrives – a surprisingly well-honed character study. Their love triangle is one defined by deceit; as it turns out, Charlie hasn’t been entirely forthright either, leaving our villain of all people to be the voice of reason.
However, when our heroine robs a liquor store, it’s an amusing scam in which no one gets hurt. When Ray robs a convenience store, violence inevitably ensues, and all honest tendencies can’t hide the fact that he’s the loosest cannon of the three. It appears that Audrey can’t escape her past, leaving Charlie uncertain of his future. A confrontation erupts, as you may have gathered, but more importantly, Demme reveals that the key to happiness is honesty, if only to one’s self. Should Charlie retreat, it would be to nothing but his boring job and an empty home. But should Charlie rescue this woman whom he’s briefly known and barely knows, he must tempt fate to do so. If you haven’t seen Something Wild yet, I won’t reveal whether or not it has a happy ending, but I can commend it as a film that, at best, always keeps us guessing.
The moods of Tak Fujimoto’s cinematography – initially eclectic, with pastels that pop, before shifting to hues of patriotic simplicity, moral murkiness and blood-stained sterility – have been transferred splendidly to Blu-ray 25 years later; the prominently featured cars range from bright green to brick red to pitch black, while the very lively costumes grow simpler and increasingly tarnished as the tones shift. Supplemental features include two informative interviews, one with Demme and one with screenwriter E. Max Frye, in lieu of a traditional commentary track; an essay by critic David Thompson; and the original theatrical trailer.