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Customer Review

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight fun and a trip into the heart of the weird and not so wonderful., 29 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Wild At Heart [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
It's true to say that Wild At Heart is perhaps one of David Lynch's more-flawed cinematic endeavours, with many of the scenes, and indeed, the film as a whole, seeming incomplete or lacking any real purpose. One criticism of the film that tends to crop up most often is that the whole thing smacks of "weirdness for weirdness sake", with Lynch failing to tie his strange characters and their surreal situations to any kind of real narrative... which, I suppose is true. However, despite these flaws, the film is still a great deal of fun, and although the whole thing is ultimately very silly, it still has enough bizarre high-points, set-pieces, sight-gags and cameos to make the whole thing ultimately worthwhile.

I suppose the film is best described as a vicious black-comedy, though the emphasis there is on 'vicious'. Lynch also makes allusions to the 'lovers on the run' genre of crime filmmaking popular in the 60's and 70's, taking it all further into the realms of the bizarre through his own cinematic obsessions (like deformities, arson, small-town Americana, detective fiction, good versus evil, car-accidents, etc), as well as more arcane references to Elvis, voodoo, incest, and the Wizard of Oz. It's a surreal trip, best summed up by the film's repeated mantra "wild at heart, weird on top" with Lynch seemingly revelling in this carnival of grotesques, whores, thugs and criminals, all gathered together in small-town New Mexico under a haze of blood and sex. American film critic Roger Ebert mockingly referred to the film as a "lurid melodrama, soap opera, exploitation put-on, and self-satire", which to me, sums up the film's most successful attributes. The plot takes off from films like Thieves Like Us, Bonnie & Clyde and Badlands, pre-dating Oliver Stone's similarly over-the-top dark-satire, Natural Born Killers, with two star-struck lovers hitting the road in an attempt to escape from the pressures of the modern-world (parole, poverty and an over-bearing mother). Lynch lays on the melodramatic clichés in broad stroke, to the point where all narrative references are to be taken with a pinch of salt... for example, it's not enough for our hero Sailor to be a murdering jail-bird from the wrong-side of the tracks, but he has to have a loving, sex-kitten girlfriend from a well-to-do neighbourhood with over-protective loved-ones. Admittedly, Lynch does subvert this almost saccharine depiction of moral family values by offering a flashback, in which our heroine, Lula, is assaulted by a predatory uncle, while her mother is later revealed to be a drunk, manic-depressive with mafia ties, which again, is all part of the joke.

There's also the spirit of the 50's, with Fredrick Elmes' colourful wide-screen cinematography bringing to mind the Technicolor melodrama of Hollywood's golden age, and the films of people like Nicholas Ray, Elia Kazan and Douglas Sirk. There's also the obligatory references to the feckless youth of Brando in The Wild One, or the self-aware pastiche of Coppola's great film Rumble Fish, with the characters here looking and sounding like they've walked out of the pages of a lurid slice of pure pulp fiction. Of course, this is another problem that some viewers have had with the film, with Lynch offering no real characters - as he had done with masterpieces like The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet - and instead relying on arcane ciphers and bizarre caricatured grotesques. Again, this is all part of the fun and not really intended to be taken entirely seriously, with Lynch and his actors keeping the film moving from one out-burst of random surrealism to the next; with a number of humours and/or terrifying iconic performances from this esteemed, though certainly eclectic, cast of characters. The centre of the film, and indeed, the real focus of our attention, is established and sustained well through the relationship between the characters Sailor and Lula, which is developed surprisingly well through the strong and fearless performances of Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. Dern has never looked more stunning in a film as the sensual and unhinged Lula, whilst Cage reminds us of what a strong and intense character actor he used to be in the days before he switched to shallow Hollywood blockbusters. Both actors have a great chemistry with each other, and create a believable relationship in spite of the over-the-top abstractions and dramatic flourishes called for by Lynch's script. Amongst the supporting players, Harry Dean Stanton is a joy as the hound-dog private-investigator Johnny Farragut, who is sent looking for Sailor and Lula by his lover, Lula's mother Marietta Fortune, who is brought vividly to life with a grand-standing over-the-top relish by Dern's real-life mother, Diane Ladd.

Add some bizarre cameos from Lynch regulars, like Sherilyn Fenn, Jack Nance, Freddie Jones, Grace Zabriskie, Isabella Rossalini, Sheryl Lee (here continuing the Oz references with her climactic appearance as the good witch), J.E. Freeman, Crispin Glover (in one of the film's most bizarre scenes, as Lula's troubled cousin Dell), and an extended appearance by an unrecognisable Willem Dafoe, who's character Bobby Peru meets one of the most outlandish and overly violent sequences ever witnessed on screen. Certainly this film doesn't quite floor-me with it's madness as it used to when I was 14 or 15 (and would watch this and Blue Velvet pretty much religiously), with Lynch subsequently out-doing himself with the modern masterpiece Mulholland Drive. However, this film is probably more fun, and doesn't take as much concentration to really follow or get into it.

Ultimately, the film works depending on how much of Lynch's bizarre creations you can stand; with the film falling somewhere between the darkly-comic satire of Twin Peaks at it's most wittiest and the dark, industrial nightmare of Lost Highway, only with a more linear plot. I still think it's a great deal of fun, and will undoubtedly appeal to die-hard Lynch fans or those with an interest in cult American cinema.
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Location: Dublin, Ireland

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