Wild at Heart (1990)

Lynch’s delirious Palme d’Or-winning film starts very strongly but peters out as an incoherent if still fun, violent and erotic lovers-on-the-road movie.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,132

Dir. David Lynch
1990 | USA | Crime/Drama/Romance | 125 mins | 2.35:1 | English & Spanish
M18 (passed clean) for sexual content

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton
Plot: Young lovers Sailor and Lula hit the road to start a new life together without the wrath of Lula’s deranged, disapproving mother, who has hired a team of hitmen to cut the lovers’ surreal honeymoon short.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or (Cannes); Nom. for Best Supporting Actress (Oscars)
Distributor: Universal / MGM

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: The Projector
Spoilers: No

It would have probably needed a bonkers Cannes jury to award its highest prize to a film like Wild at Heart by David Lynch.  Perhaps they saw in it a work so delirious and absurd that it merits some kind of celebration. 

Fresh from Blue Velvet (1986), one of his career’s absolute peaks, and released amidst the success of his ‘Twin Peaks’ series, Wild at Heart must have been lapped up by fans and cinephiles alike at the time. 

More than 30 years on, the film feels like an oddity inasmuch as there is no clear critical consensus whether it is a great or highly-flawed work. 

It’s somewhere in the middle for me, starting very strongly as we are introduced to the myriad of characters that would, where convenient, dis/appear throughout the film. 

“This whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top.”

A wild Nicolas Cage headlines the film together with Laura Dern, both excellent as cheesy lovers on the road, hoping to evade the clutches of the law (Cage’s Sailor is on parole) and the weird-ass hitmen sent to kill Sailor by the conniving and overprotective mother (a sensational Diane Ladd in an Oscar-nominated supporting role) of Dern’s Lula. 

As strange and a madhouse of a film as you would expect from Lynch’s darkly fertile mind, Wild at Heart peters out as an incoherent work with pacing problems that are most evident in its final third. 

Still, Cage and Dern’s erotic antics, as well as their psychological experiences of trauma from past and present acts of violence (fires and car accidents are visual motifs) keep us invested in the narrative, if sometimes barely. 

There’s the saying that ‘love can overcome any obstacle’, but in Lynch’s hands, he takes it to the extreme—be it Sailor’s love for Lula, or a mother’s love for her daughter—and finds a certain amount of fun in doing so, though audiences may not always be entirely convinced by his approach.    

Grade: B-



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