Something Wild

A solitary businessman eats lunch at a crowded downtown diner attracting the attention of an eclectically dressed young woman who eyes him from behind her Frieda Kahlo biography. An impulsive decision draws her into his orbit and sets off a chain of events that will, over the course of a single weekend, change their lives. The yuppie is Jeff Daniels, the mystery woman is Melanie Griffith, and the movie is Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild” (1986), featured July and August (2022) on MGM HD.



There’s a sinister undercurrent to the “meet-cute” moment that begins “Something Wild” that foreshadows that the tale to come may not as be as lighthearted as it first appears. Griffith’s “Lulu” lures Daniel’s “Charlie” into her convertible in much the same way a black widow snares her prey. This is not to say that Charlie is an unwilling fly in her web. Lulu appeals to Charlie’s dormant reckless side, and after an afternoon and evening of drunken seduction, Charlie is all in for whatever ride Lulu has in mind.



And what a ride! “Something Wild” takes unexpected cinematic genre detours; it begins as a screwball comedy, quickly becomes a road trip movie, a family drama, a rom-com, and midway through, upon the arrival of Ray Liotta’s “Ray,” a lurid film noir. Visually and thematically, “Something Wild” feels at times like a trip backward in time. Made in the middle of the go-go eighties, Demme’s camera captures a Manhattan in transition: glass high rises were going up and neighborhoods were gentrifying as new immigrants lent their voices to the vibrant chorus of the city. Once they hit the road though, Charlie and Lulu are haunted by the ghosts of Americana past: highways lined with Eisenhower-era motels; suburbs where teenagers joyride in Kennedy-era Corvettes; and a high school reunion celebrating the “Spirit of ’76.”



As the movie unfolds, we discover that Lulu and Charlie are really a pair of liars. Each of them, challenged by living up to the American Dream, have adapted their own carefully constructed façades. Throughout the picture, as they raid thrift shops, closets, and roadside souvenir stands, the pair adapt and discard new personas in their attempt to find themselves and each other.



Melanie Griffith’s beguiling Lulu is by turns, comical, vulnerable, and tough. Jeff Daniels’ Charlie possesses an “aw-shucks” All-American goofiness, like a grown up and temporarily “sivilized” Huck Finn. But it’s Ray Liotta, whose clear-eyed menace raises the stakes of the film the minute he appears on screen.



No discussion of “Something Wild” would be complete without mentioning the soundtrack.  From the opening song, “Loco De Amor,” by David Byrne and Celia Cruz, to the final performance by Sister Carol under the closing credits, the song, “Wild Thing,” by the Troggs, weaves a musical theme throughout the film. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the New Jersey band, The Feelies playing a set in a high school gymnasium.



Look out for “Something Wild,” July and August (2022) on MGM HD.