Remembering Jonathan Demme: SOMETHING WILD

The world of cinema was shocked by the tragic passing of Mr. Demme at the end of April.  In honor of his memory, this week Kyle and Ben discuss Something Wild, his underrated romantic thriller that has been given a stunning blu-ray release by the Criterion Collection.

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BEN: As I delve into the world of cinema, I come across films that are so mind-bending they stop me dead in my tracks.  As the film opens, we meet Charlie Driggs played by a very roguish Jeff Daniels in a café.  We don’t know why at this point, but there is something fundamentally wrong with this relatively successful finance wizard and he makes a decision that attracts the attention of a very dynamic Lulu, played by Melanie Griffith.  From this opening frame, we can tell that Demme, whose shooting style would be considered “open,” is going to have fun with the audience.  After a rather humorous confrontation, Lulu encourages Charlie to get into her car, where she takes him on a ride of debauchery and mayhem.  Along the way, they steal, they abandon; Charlie comes to terms with his rebellious side and falls in love with Lulu, who has a dark secret in the form of Ray Sinclair played by a very young and vibrant Ray Liotta in his second theatrical role.

KYLE: One of the things that instantly grabbed me upon revisiting this was how colorful it was.  Demme uses a bohemian aesthetic that’s both distinct, and somehow….normal?  I read in an article that Demme and the crew handpicked the bulk of set decorations and props.  It’s an intimate story and you can feel Demme’s deep affection for it in every frame.

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BEN: This is going to sound cliché, but E. Max Frye’s Edgar Award-winning screenplay is typically 1980s:  the young successful banker is looking for an escape from his successful life, falls in love with his sinful, polar opposite with a secret past which eventually results in a murderous ending coupled with the ultimate 1980s bad boy who spells trouble for the young lovers.  With Demme’s deft direction, solid acting, and the fun atmosphere created by Frye’s screenplay, it works.

KYLE: I love how it’s this neo-Odyssey by way of the cliché road trip.  You can see Ray being the cyclops and Lulu in her three different personas reminded me of the Sirens, luring Daniels away from safety and into harm’s way that would ultimately lead to a greater understanding of self.

BEN: Daniels was the perfect young actor to play the yuppie seeking freedom while Melanie Griffith plays to her sinful strong suits.  Ray Liotta comes into himself as the violent, aggressive type.  The three leads lent such credibility to their roles that they were all nominated for Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actor at the 1987 Golden Globes, respectively.

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KYLE: I could not believe that this was Liotta’s second role.  He’s completely magnetic from the instant his character enters the story.  I really enjoyed his chemistry with Daniels and Griffith.  It has this sophisticated, but primal quality that I think is essential for the tonal changes in the second half.  I really enjoyed how Demme was sort of playing on the expectations of the audience with respect to 80’s rom coms and essentially pulls a bait and switch and ends up with something resonant.  It’s about confronting the dangers of the world in the name of love and Demme uses his trio of talent along with some outstanding technical work to bring his bloody, but beautiful valentine home.

BEN: As I mentioned at the beginning, very few movies stop me in my tracks.  Driggs’ comment at the end of the movie hit home the most:  “It’s better to be a live dog then a dead lion;” a common theme to movies of the era, but it serves also as a warning to future generations:  live a little.  Perhaps we could all heed Driggs’ sage advice.

KYLE:  Highly Recommended for me.

BEN: We are in agreement!

Title Card Something Wild

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