My preferred auteurist puncturing of the yuppie lifestyle of the 1980s (the other is Martin Scorsese’s After Hours), Something Wild stars Jeff Daniels as Charlie Driggs, a buttoned-up corporate vice president who impulsively decides to skip out on a lunch check one day. Watching him is Lulu (Melanie Griffith), a full-time free spirit who is moved to invite him on an unhinged road trip back to her childhood home, where he poses as her husband for her 10-year high-school reunion.
An early effort from director Jonathan Demme, Something Wild has all of his hallmarks: a genial comic energy; a penchant for musical interludes (don’t miss the wonderful end-credits number); a welcome spirit that makes room for all sorts of oddball minor characters. Perhaps above all, Something Wild has an overflowing generosity, a warm heart for both the misfits and the squares on the screen.
As Charlie, Daniels is a delight, especially in one of the all-time great movie dance scenes, where Charlie fully, freely lets loose. Griffith, meanwhile, gets to do more than the movies usually let her, particularly after it’s revealed that Lulu isn’t quite the wild child she claims to be. And then there is Ray Liotta, who seemingly walks in from a David Lynch film in the final third as Lulu’s deranged paramour. (As frightening as he is, Demme even allows him an intimate, extreme close-up in the movie’s final moments that is startlingly humanizing.)
Something Wild begins as a vicarious fantasy, segues into a cautionary tale, and ends up somewhere in between. Ultimately the movie captures the tension of trying to stand out in a cookie-cutter world without alienating everyone around you. Being a good person doesn’t mean you have to be boring; being interesting doesn’t mean you have to be a sociopath. But it can be awkward trying to find the right rhythm in between.