Friday, April 9, 2021

Off the Shelf: THE WILD LIFE

 by Patrick Bromley

It's casual.

1984's The Wild Life is best known as the "spiritual sequel" to Amy Heckerling's teen classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It's the second screenplay produced by Fast Times scribe Cameron Crowe, once again about high school students living their lives mostly in a world free of adult supervision, and even casts Sean "Spicoli" Penn's brother Chris as the movie's primary comic relief, a dopey high school wrestling star named Tom Drake. On paper, it should have been the same kind of sensation as Fast Times. It wasn't, but that doesn't mean it's not worth watching. There's a lot to like about The Wild Life.

It's the last weeks before school starts up again, and the students of Torrance High School are going to make the most of it. Recent graduate Bill (Eric Stoltz) is finding independence by renting his own apartment, but when the rent is too much to swing by himself he takes on a roommate in wrestling star Tom Drake (Penn), who lives to party. Tom's girlfriend Eileen (Jenny Wright) is working at an upscale fashion store in the mall, where her boss (Rick Moranis) has taken more than a liking to her. Bill's ex-girlfriend Anita (Lea Thompson) works at the local donut shop and is carrying on an affair with a married cop (Hart Bochner, always the sleaze). Bill's younger brother Jim (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is obsessed with Viet Nam, nunchucks, and anarchy. It's all part of living that Wild Life.
As long as you don't go in expecting Fast Times, there's a lot to like about The Wild Life. The cast is incredible, the performances appealing, the soundtrack first rate (Eddie Van Halen even does the score!). But director Art Linson (who reportedly stepped in at the last minute when the original director dropped out) is no Amy Heckerling and it shows. He lacks her comic touch and the sensitivity to treat the young characters like more than types, awkwardness and all. Cameron Crowe's screenplay is neither as funny nor as brilliantly observant this time around, either, though the stuff about Eric Stoltz expecting his first stab at adulthood to be much, much different is right on the money. I wish there had been more of that in The Wild Life -- that this had been a movie about the next steps after high school, it might have differentiated itself as more than an echo of Fast Times. But I also know enough not to review the movie I wish this was, so I will say that I really like The Wild Life for what it is: a teen comedy
One of the reasons I suspect The Wild Life isn't better known is because it was hard to see for many years. It had a VHS release and was eventually put out on made-to-order DVD-R with much of the soundtrack compromised. Kino Lorber is now releasing the movie on Blu-ray for the first time as part of their Studio Classics line, and while I can't confirm that some of the music has been changed, I think it has (I don't remember hearing songs by the likes of Prince and Madonna, but don't quote me on it). In addition to an HD transfer, there's a new interview with co-star Ilan Mitchell-Smith (who made this before Weird Science) and a commentary with Ian Christe and the late, great Mike "McBeardo" McPadden, whose book Teen Movie Hell is an essential reference volume on movies like The Wild Life. He even gets a nice dedication at the start of the disc. Releasing the movie on Blu-ray at all is a tribute to his memory, as The Wild Life is the exact sort of movie McPadden spent his career championing. In this case, he was right.

Blu-ray release date: April 13, 2021
96 minutes/1984/Rated R
1.85:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
English SDH

Blu-ray Bonus Features:
Commentary with Author Mike "McBeardo" McPadden and Author/DJ Ian Christe
Interview with Ilan Mitchell-Smith
Radio Spots
Theatrical Trailer

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