Something Wild was released in 1986 and is directed by Jonathan Demme. It was released in The Criterion Collection on May 10th, 2011 as Spine #563. This is one of two films by Demme that are part of the collection. The other and more widely-appreciated is The Silence of the Lambs, which swept the 5 main categories at The Academy Awards.
Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels), a New York City businessman, decides to skip on his bill at the restaurant he frequents. When an off-the-wall woman takes notice, she runs out to confront him, offering him a ride back to work. Driggs soon realizes she is not taking him back, and after a motel hook-up, their self-realizing journey begins.
A few short years before Demme (and company) made the aforementioned Oscar run, he put together Something Wild. This is a weird, quirky Crime/Romance/Comedy/Road movie that features an awesome soundtrack, which follows in sync with the film’s ever changing tone. Something Wild’s violent tonal shifts are marred by the two main characters’ morphing into different people. Driggs begins as the lonely, middle class businessman looking to add a thrill to his life, and Lulu (Melanie Griffith) starts as the spastic, directionless wild child. Each of them, individually, struggles with their past and how it shaped them into people they didn’t want to be. Their struggles are not brought on until Ray Sinclair (played by Ray Liotta) steps in. He is the driving force behind the character development, even though he is the exact maniac villain you picture when you think of Ray Liotta today or any other day.
Jonathan Demme realized these characters and focused on where he wanted to go with the film. He offers a huge turn at the half way point of the film (when they meet Ray Sinclair the high school reunion). Though Liotta is the driving force for character development, his character causes the film to lose some of the charm. The film begins to rely on his outlandish acting, forgetting about Charlie and Lulu. Thankfully, this is only a short-term derail before things come together in the end.
The film does not offer much on the deeper side except a few discreet instances. In the beginning Lulu is reading Frida, which kind of insisted they were playing her character out as a Feminist or the deeply rooted artsy type, but that idea doesn’t pan out. Then the film has a discreet call on the difference of upbringing and character, playing each individual out to their stereotype.
The supplements lack in quantity, but one interview presented offers surprising insight on how much care was put into making this movie. Demme’s testimonial explains how he constructed his set pieces and how shaped them to meet the feel he wanted. He even touches on the casting process and how he knew exactly who he wanted for the main characters. And, then, he speaks candidly on a previous debacle with a production company that nearly made him quit directing. The other interview with Screenplay writer E. Max Frye is worth a watch as he too expresses his care for this film. But, outside of these two interviews, the only other supplement is the film’s trailer.
Something Wild is a fun film that brings on one of Jeff Daniels best performances. It offers a fun ride until the half way mark and then runs ragged for a bit before bringing back the charm. There is a notable lack of supplements, but what little exists is worth a watch. If you like Dimme’s other work, give this a chance.
Film Grade: B –
Criterion Grade: C