Something Wild (1986)

25 Jan

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Something Wild” is one of the more accurate titles for a comedy. It’s about a wild woman, a not-too-wild businessman, a wild series of events, and wild encounters. It gets even wilder as it continues and only lets up in a more conventional final act, but doesn’t hurt the movie so much. It’s too interesting to be brought down.

The movie gets to the plot immediately. As it opens, a conventional businessman, named Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels), meets an interesting, sexy woman named Lulu (Melanie Griffith). She asks him out to lunch, even if Charlie might be married. But Charlie is easily stimulated by her boldness and comes along anyway. It’s when he gets into her car that he realizes that Lulu is a wild child. She practically kidnaps Charlie and they do whatever she wants to do, and he enjoys her free-spirited, impulsive recklessness. She is that person to bring spark into Charlie’s life and he goes along with whatever she has in mind.

They rent a hotel room, have wild sex, and while he’s handcuffed to the bed, she dials his boss’ number and forces him to talk, because after all, he’s supposed to be at the office. He has to make some sort of excuse, right?

Things get even wilder from there. It involves spending a lot of money, going from hotel to hotel, continuous sex, and soon enough, leading to meeting Lulu’s mother, as Lulu introduces Charlie as her husband. That’s how fast she is; she has a creative imagination and thinks on the fly, all while leaving Charlie to experience it as it goes. (“Lulu,” by the way, is not her real name. It’s the name she chose for the week.)

Charlie and Lulu drive from New York to Tallahassee to attend Lulu’s high-school reunion, still pulling the “husband” card on Charlie to impress her former classmates. They have a fun time (and there’s a brilliant comic scene in which the two dance to a cover of David Bowie’s “Fame”), but they both run into the last people they wanted to meet. For Charlie, it’s his co-worker, an accountant from the office who knows the real deal about Charlie and could either aid him or make things worse. And for Lulu, it’s her ex-husband Ray (Ray Liotta), who was just released from prison (or did he escape?) and came to the reunion to see Lulu again. She’s not interested, but he sticks to the two and soon enough takes them captive in the same way Lulu took Charlie. Charlie is looking for more fun and excitement, but Ray is far too wild to hang around with. He has crime-related ideas to act upon, gets the two involved, and Charlie realizes he must fight for Lulu and for his own life.

The first half of “Something Wild” is mesmerizing. It takes the ordinary everyday world into a bizarre play-land for just about anything to happen at any time. We never see any of the tricks coming; they’re bestowed upon us as they go. They’re random, inventive, and unpredictable. You have to wonder if director Jonathan Demme can keep it going…and it turns out he can keep the spontaneity for so long that the movie descends into a more conventional route, as Ray continues to stalk Charlie and Lulu with vengeance on his mind. This of course must lead to an ultimate showdown—a climactic fight between Charlie and Ray. We pretty much know what’s going to happen at this point, so the tension that was brought upon the impulsiveness and eroticism of the earlier and middle sequences is somewhat reduced.

The actors carry the movie with incredible timing, appeal, and believability. Melanie Griffith has to convince us that her character is a wild child, and has no problem pulling that off. Jeff Daniels is likable and has that look in his eye that says that he wants something, but doesn’t quite know how to get it. That’s where Griffith comes in. The two share great chemistry on-screen, as well as suitable sexual tension. Ray Liotta, showing up midway through the movie, is absolutely compelling as the jealous ex-husband. He has that similar look in his eye, but resorts to higher measures to get what he wants. He is convincing in being able to get Charlie to trust him—this is a guy you’d like to go partying with before realizing that he’s a little too much into the act, more so than you are.

“Something Wild” is indeed something wild. It’s one of those inventive comedies in which the characters and the plot are consistent in that they’re just as surprised to continue as we are. Everything is thought through and seems spontaneous for us to laugh and be invested, and the actors are game for the material. Even if it goes more for a standard climax, it has a lot of fun leading up to it.

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