Something Wild (1986)

4.5 stars

Rocking, grooving fun in this unpredictable and offbeat picture that impresses in its seamless shifts in tone and great chemistry between the two leads.

Dir. Jonathan Demme
1986 | USA | Comedy/Crime/Romance| 114 mins | 1.78:1 | English
Not rated (but likely to be M18 for violence, nudity and sexual situations)

Cast: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta
Plot: A free-spirited woman ‘kidnaps’ a yuppie for a weekend of adventure. But the fun quickly takes a dangerous turn when her ex-convict husband shows up.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Golden Globes – Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor
Distributor: MGM

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Off-Kilter
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream


Review #1,185

(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 24 Jun 2015)

Spoilers: No

Most famous for the films The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Philadelphia (1993), Jonathan Demme has always appeared to me to be a filmmaker working on the fringes of Hollywood, somewhat akin to making quasi-independent American cinema but also having a kind of mainstream clout that often translates into off-kilter projects with stars.

His latest, Ricki and the Flash (2015), stars Meryl Streep as an aged rocker, a film that looks promising and perhaps indicative of the kind of cinema he makes in what has been a career of constant ups and downs. You have to go back to 1986 for one of his most brilliant and offbeat films in his filmography – Something Wild.

Somewhat lost in the VHS video rental store wilderness, but has been shrewdly given the full Criterion treatment, Demme’s rocking, grooving fun of a movie can now be re-appreciated and continuously rewatched – yes it is that addictive.

“Remember, no matter what, it’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion.”

Starring Jeff Daniels as Charlie, a straight-laced white collar executive who has been promoted to vice-president of a tax company, but is seduced and ‘kidnapped’ by a stranger who calls herself Lulu (Melanie Griffith of Body Double (1984) and Working Girl (1988) fame). They go on a semi-road trip and discover that life is full of surprises – the good, the bad, and possibly the ugly.

The chemistry between the two leads are great, with Daniels and Griffith giving extremely likable performances. Ray Liotta, in his feature debut, shows us why he is a force on the big screen with an eye-catching supporting role as Lulu’s ex-husband.

The standout is of course Demme’s use of source music – like his compatriots Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, he is a master at picking the right songs for an array of different scenes. Accompanied by a script that never gets dull, and Tak Fujimoto’s restless camerawork, Something Wild is an arresting slice of offbeat Americana that functions as an amalgam of many genres, with Demme effortlessly handling unpredictable tonal shifts.

Something Wild is a must-watch of 1980s American cinema, and still one of Demme’s finest works.

Grade: A



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