“Something Wild” is Jonathon Demme’s punked out version of “It Happened One Night” on speed with a twist. Usually in these affairs the male lead is a bit of a loose end that needs to be tamed, while the woman is almost always some cold repressed version of your high school English teacher with potential. Here things are a little more complicated. Jeff Daniel’s Charlie Driggs is a bit of a drip, and Melanie Griffith’s LuLu is a changeling firecracker in a Louise Brooks wig perhaps the first and best version of Madonna’s boy toy girls just want to have fun persona ever put to film.
Charlie Driggs is a repressed corporate geek who likes to call people he doesn’t know by their first names. His wife has recently picked up their kids and started a new life with the family dentist. One day he skips out on a lunch bill and is called on it by Lulu, a vision in tons of costume jewelry, a black dress, black stockings and lots of attitude. Everything she has on looks like it came from a vintage or a second hand store. Every pore of her presence oozes sex and irresponsibility. She looks at Charlie and sizes him up in about thirty seconds flat. “Let me guess. Sometimes you don’t pay for your lunch, or maybe you steal the occasional candy bar or newspaper. You’re a closet rebel!” Pretty soon he’s tagging along as she drinks, drives, and robs a liquor store in her vintage pop art car. She takes him to a cheap motel, handcuffs him to the bed, and writhes on top of him as he valiantly tries to explain to his boss why he won’t be in for the rest of the day. He’s along for the rest of the ride on a lost weekend, handcuffs included.
She cleans herself up and takes him to visit her mother. They claim to be married, but mom isn’t buying it for a second. The next morning she appears before him an almost completely different woman with shining blonde hair. She’s now Audrey. They go to her high school reunion and continue the ruse. The lies grow when he sees one of his coworkers. He’s starting to loosen up, enjoying his freedom. Then her past shows up in the form of Ray Liotta her just out of jail husband. He wants her back and he doesn’t mind roughing up Charlie to get her.
This was the first time I ever saw Ray Liotta. If you are able to ignore the absurd Pia Zadora classic “The Lonely Lady,” it’s his first film, and he’s a revelation of volatile menacing violence and danger. One of the truly scary performances in the history of film.
“Something Wild” is a dangerous movie. It holds out the exciting notion that who you are today doesn’t necessarily have to be who you are tomorrow. This is Melanie Griffith’s best role by far as she successfully becomes every man’s wet dream fantasy of rebirth and fun. Daniels does a good job of giving dignity to the desperation of decency and the failure of every day life. Demme’s world is filled with diverse cultures, weird music, strange independent director cameos (John Sayles and John Waters), and the allure of unknown experiences. A vestige of hope for your inner geek yearning to rebel.