What makes Something Wild so interesting is the way it presents its ideas, and subsequently, how an audience assimilates to them. Demme’s film thrusts the audience headfirst into the rambunctious world of its characters, and only adjusts for your comfort at some point in the middle. And even as one begins to gather what the characters are about and the motives behind their questionable actions, the irking sense that something dark looms is a constant. Its idiosyncratic pressure from characters and the surroundings essentially substitutes traditional notions of human psychology for a broader social critique of what it means to be married and the ramifications of perceived social identity.
Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) sits in a New York restaurant. His suit and tie make him stick out in the sea of blue-collar workers. Is there a sense of entitlement here when he decides to skip out on a check? Or perhaps his intentions lend themselves to more of a personal thrill – the titillation of doing something illegal? Either way, he’s caught not by the cashier, but a young woman who goes by the name Lulu (Melanie Griffith). Sporting a fake black wig reminiscent of Marcia Wallace is Pulp Fiction, she commands the easily swayed Charlie. The motivation that drives these two characters is unknown at this point of the film, and therein makes it hard to buy what Demme’s selling between the two. But looking at this opening act in Something Wild retrospectively, it makes sense. In fact, it’s actually a rather impressive way to help define the impulsiveness of one character while building upon the subservience of another.
The two travel down their path, drinking, having sex, and generally embracing a life of personal satisfaction. But Lulu (who we later discover is named Audrey) has a purpose in having Charlie with her – she wants to bring him home to her mother and show him off at her high school reunion. While handled rather light-heartedly, there’s a sense of melancholy in these actions, as Charlie represents a form of stability – the man who has his life together – these are virtuous traits that are sorely missing from Audrey’s life. If Something Wild proves anything, it’s that appearances are deceiving, as each character has a darkness inside of them that comes to a head when Charlie and Audrey encounter Ray (Ray Liotta).
Something Wild is an apt description for the film as a whole, but Something Off could work too. The film doesn’t work entirely, especially as it begins to creep toward its dark conclusion. The social critique of Driggs being financially successful whilst mingling with those in a lesser economic spectrum is dismissed, instead replaced by a more visceral chase and action sequence. It’s entertaining, no doubt, but it also hinders the film’s larger ideas from being fulfilled. The soundtrack selection, a mesh of The Feelies and David Byrne is also particularly glaring, though that almost excusable given the era. Perhaps I’m being a bit too particular, but these aspects weren’t things I could easily embrace, and therefore removed me a bit from the whole of the film.