Something Wild was my first taste of “Narrative Jonathan Demme,” though I had seen and loved his Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense two years earlier. I remember being knocked out by Something Wild when it first opened in 1986, because before that time I had never seen a movie that switched genres so completely. Many patrons in the theater that night did not like the bait-and-switch (I remember several walkouts.)
I loved it.
Audrey and Charlie arrive at the reunion and come face to face with Audrey’s ex-husband Ray (Ray Liotta, in his film debut). Something doesn’t seem quite right about Ray, but this is a bubbly romantic comedy, so what could possibly go wrong. Right?
Jonathan Demme’s vision of America focuses on its diversity. It is not an accident that the theme of Audrey’s 10th high school reunion is “Spirit of ’76-- Revisited.” Flags, Uncle Sam hats, and eagles crowd the outer edges of the frame as if director Demme is afraid that we won’t get that he is exploring unique, but uniquely American, characters. In no other director’s oeuvre will you find such a diverse cast of distinctly American types, and this leads to a parade of wonderful character actors. Many would become members of Demme’s stock company in future films: We have the wonderful Tracey Walter as the clerk of a liquor store that is robbed, being interviewed by the local television news and delivering one of my favorite lines in the film, “…and she was covered… her arms… both were covered in, in rings, and, and jewelry… accouterments of black, satanistic…” Robert Ridgely plays Charlie’s boss; John Sayles plays a motorcycle cop; John Waters plays a used car dealer; Charles Napier plays an irate chef. As an added bonus, the mothers of David Byrne (who contributes the film’s opening number) and Jonathan Demme play the two little old ladies who own the local thrift store!
here (you’re welcome).
The nod to gangster films here isn’t just a metaphoric flight of fancy, either. The much-vaunted genre switch three quarters though the film (which I am trying NOT to spoil) is what drove the late film critic Kevin Courier to call Something Wild a “screwball noir.”
As we might expect from the director of one of the best concert films ever made, the Something Wild soundtrack is killer: “Loco De Amor” by David Byrne and Celia Cruz, “Ever Fallen In Love” by Fine Young Cannibals, “Not My Slave” by Oingo Boingo, and “Wild Thing” by Sister Carol. That last song plays over the end credits as a waitress (played by Sister Carol) sings from the sidewalk, looking directly at the camera, after participating in the film’s final scene. It’s Fellini-esque! If you have a Spotify or Amazon Music or Apple Music or any Illicit, Illegal Downloading Subscription, play those four songs in that order—NOTHING WILL SOUND MORE ’80s THAN THOSE SONGS PLAYED IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY APPEAR IN SOMETHING WILD.