Something Wild is probably my second favourite Jonathan Demme film—it’s the one where everything comes together really well, with all the quirkiness that you want from Demme (something he lost after the Silence of the Lambs backlash). It’s a wild ride, with Jeff Daniels as Charles in one his earliest roles. (Daniels had done this and Purple Rose of Cairo, which he’s great in, then went off the map again before returning in Dumb or Dumber.) Melanie Griffith plays Lulu, an archetypal manic pixie dream girl, though a more interesting one than usual. It has a great shift in tone when Ray Liotta shows up, in a role that is what really blew him up before Goodfellas.
It starts as a bizarre road movie, and then there’s the change when Liotta appears as Lulu’s crazy ex-husband. Demme has said that it was an attempt to blend screwball comedy with film noir—of course, the masters of that are the Coen Brothers. They are already connected in a way, with both being dialogue-driven genres with the focus on a male-female pair ending up in crazy situations.
The film has an insane soundtrack—Demme’s films always have loads of music in them. There are 50 songs in Something Wild, featuring a Who’s Who of 80s music acts. The only band actually appearing on-screen are The Feelies, who were good friends of Demme’s. It includes some Talking Heads offshoots, the Go-Betweens, X, Oingo Boingo, and lots of versions of “Wild Thing.” The Feelies do covers of “I’m a Believer” and “Fame.”
Cameos also abound, including John Waters as a used car salesman—a role he was born to play—and John Sayles as a motorcycle cop. Sayles was another Demme friend, from their days in the Roger Corman “film school.” It was shot by Tak Fujimoto, a great cinematographer, whose first film was Badlands. Fujimoto had ended up working with Corman, but he had a long partnership with Demme and also worked quite a few of the most iconic John Hughes films.
Max Frye wrote the script. Frye was still in film school, but when the script landed in Demme’s lap after he finished Swing Shift and was working mainly doing music videos and films, he committed to it. It wasn’t a big hit, but the three main actors were all nominated for Golden Globes when the film came out.
The disc includes a 30-minute interview with Demme and a shorter interview with Frye, plus a booklet with an essay by David Thompson. Demme had a strange career, ricocheting between indie and Hollywood and ending up doing television. It’s a shame he died when he did, because Something Wild shows that he was a good director who still could have done more and there has a big renewed interest in is earlier films in recent years.