Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wild at Heart

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/8/07.

1986's Blue Velvet helped broke David Lynch into the mainstream as he won accolades as well as detractors. After years of trying to attain full creative control and freedom while working with major distributors, Lynch was finally able to do what he wanted. In 1989, Lynch helped create one of the most popular TV shows of the late 80s and early 90s called Twin Peaks that helped him attain more mainstream attention. When Twin Peaks reached a peak in 1990, so was anticipation for Lynch's fifth feature film that was based on Barry Gifford's novel about an ex-con and his girlfriend try to evade her mother while going on a journey leading them into a dark underworld. The film, from that novel, was called Wild at Heart.

Written for the screen and directed by David Lynch, Wild at Heart is an evocative, strange love story that pushes a couple, head over heels, into extremes that would shake their love life. Part road film, part suspense, part drama, and part romance, the film typified the surreal, dark style that David Lynch is known for while delving into new territory that pushed his cinematic style. Starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, and Harry Dean Stanton. Wild at Heart is a dreamy, harrowing, and surreal film from David Lynch.

After killing a man in self-defense, Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) is released after 22 months in prison as his beloved Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) waits for him. Not happy about Sailor's release is Lula's mother Marietta (Diane Ladd) who was hoping to rid of the man. Hiring a private detective named Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), she hopes that Johnnie will find Lula. Unfortunately, Marietta has another plan that involves Sailor's former employer named Santos (J.E. Freeman), who wants to put a hit on Sailor on the condition that a hit on Johnnie is in the works as well.

On their destination towards California, they stop at a heavy metal club while staying in motels as they talk about their demons and various confessions. Sailor understands why the man who tried to kill him wanted him dead. He is also aware of Marietta's motives that involved the death of Lula’s father. During a stop to New Orleans, Lula talks about her cousin Dell (Crispin Glover) and his own quirky faults while Sailor talks about a woman he'd been with during his days working for Santos. Realizing the danger that Johnnie is in, Marietta flies to New Orleans to try and give him a warning. Unfortunately, she doesn't as Santos sends a message to Mr. Reindeer (William Shepard Morgan) who sends one of his famed hit people including Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie) on the job.

After leaving New Orleans, Sailor and Lula continue on their journey as Lula feels haunted in seeing her mother as a witch where their blissful yet strange journey takes a dark encounter. After seeing wrecked cars and a woman (Sherilyn Fenn) walking around in her own blood, things start to fall apart. With Santos still working towards Sailor, the couple make a stop in a small town in Texas. Sailor meets Perdita Durango (Isabella Rossellini) about knowledge on a possible hit which she denied. Stopping at a nearby motel to give their car a rest, Lula finds herself ill. Sailor meets with a man named Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe) who helps the two as he learns about Lula's illness. Realizing that he's short on cash, Sailor becomes tempted by Peru about a job, that would eventually cost him everything he holds dear.

While the film is essentially a love story, in reality. It is a love story set in a world of escapism. It's about this couple who are deeply in love with each other that everything seems to start out fine despite whatever demons they're carrying. Then when the journey starts to hit a bump, reality starts to set in and the two basically couldn't deal with it. While there's several subplots that involve the crazed mind of Marietta, the mob, Santos, and other assorted characters. Fortunately for Lynch's approach to Barry Gifford's novel, the adaptation works for Lynch's unique vision.

The direction that is filled with surreal imagery, evocative shots, images of fire, and dreamy compositions is pure Lynch. The images of fire including matches being struck are wonderful symbols to convey the passion that burns inside Sailor and Lula. The film also contains numerous references to The Wizard of Oz that included witch-like characters, mentions of the yellow brick robe, and an orb that one of the witches looks into. Overall, Lynch creates a film that's almost dreamy yet eerie where something is about to happen and it ain't going to be good. Despite all of these wonderful ideas, not everything works where at times, some of those ideas is used repeatedly that it eventually wears out. Still, Lynch's approach to storytelling, even in a love story as strange as this works in almost every level.

Cinematographer Frederick Elmes brings some amazing camera work from the color palettes and sheer imagery in the sex scenes to wonderful, dreamy exterior shots in one daytime scene along with dark, colorful lighting in the nighttime scenes. Elmes' camera work is very sharp and jaw-dropping with every image and shot that's captured on film. Editor Duwayne Dunham brings a wonderful, stylized approach to the film's pacing and scene shifting to convey the sense of horror and excitement that surrounds the film's central characters. Sound designer Randy Thom use of sound ranging from the spark of matches to the atmosphere of the road is evocative with the film's dark tone.

Production designer Patricia Norris creates a wonderful look for the film with use of real locations, hotels, and such while decorating things that aren't usually seen in a motel room or a bank. Costume designer Amy Stofsky creates a wonderful look for the costumes whether it's the array of clothes that Diane Ladd wear, the skinny dresses of Laura Dern, or the black clothes that some of the men wear. The snakeskin jacket (don't insult the jacket) was actually Nicolas Cage's until he gave it to Laura Dern at the end of shooting. Hair stylist Frida Aradottir and make-up artist Michelle Buhler also do great work for a few characters whether it's the array of hair style for Diane Ladd to the strange, dirty, gold blond hair that both Grace Zabriskie and Isabella Rossellini wear as well as their looks in make-up.

The film's music and soundtrack features a wonderful, sweeping film score from longtime Lynch collaborator Angelo Badalamenti. The operatic-like orchestral score works to convey the dream-like, fantasy tone of the film while also bringing in some suspenseful music to convey its horror. Also from Badalamenti is elements of jazz to set the mood for some sequences in New Orleans. The rest of the soundtrack is diverse that includes a thrash metal accompaniment from the band Powermad, jazz singer Koko Taylor, old-school rock classics from Gene Vincent and Them, and some dreamy, seductive cuts from Chris Issak that included the hit song Wicked Games. The soundtrack and score is one of the film's greatest highlights that included Nicolas Cage doing some great rendition of a couple of classic songs by Elvis Presley.

The film's cast is wonderfully diverse filled with an array of characters that can almost be described as Fellini-esque or rather, Lynchian. Featuring appearances from John Lurie, Pruitt Vince Taylor, and Lynch regular Jack Nance in Texas trailer park scene along with Marvin Kaplan as Lula's Uncle Pooch, Frances Bay as Reindeer’s top madam, Calvin Lockhart as Juana's lover, and Gregg Dandridge as Bob Ray Lemon, the man who is killed in the film's opening scene by Sailor. Twin Peaks stars Sherilyn Fenn and Sheryl Lee make memorable, great appearances in the film with Fenn as an important plot point and Lee as a good witch. William Morgan Sheppard is great as the crime boss Mr. Reindeer who surrounds himself with topless women and such.

J.E. Freeman is wonderful as the crazed Santos who is a great organizer and charmer as he’s one of those bad guys who that people will love to hate. Grace Zabriskie is great in her brief appearance as Juana Durango that is just a shock to watch as her appearance is both funny and scary. Harry Dean Stanton is perfect in his role as Johnnie Farragut, a detective who loves Marietta but tries to do what is right for everyone. Though his role is brief, Crispin Glover is amazing as the crazy Cousin Dell who loves to press on torn-up sandwiches, being afraid of black gloves, and wearing cockroach-surrounded underwear.

Isabella Rossellini is wonderful in her brief appearance as Perdita Durango, sporting a dirty, blond look and a black dress, Rossellini's performance is a joy to watch as she even likes to get a little dirty. Willem Dafoe also makes a great appearance as Bobby Peru sporting some god awful teeth, saying some funny jokes, and just has this malicious grin that is fun to watch. Dafoe is truly one of the most diverse actors as he proves he can be very bad and extremely funny. Diane Ladd is brilliant in an over-the-top performance as the witch-like Marietta. Ladd's performance is wonderful to watch as if she's having a lot of fun acting with real-life daughter Laura Dern, smear lipstick all over her face, and just go overly-dramatic. It's a fantastic performance from the veteran actress.

Laura Dern is amazing in her role as Lula, this exotic sex-pot who has a wild imagination while hiding her own childhood pain. Dern brings a complexity to the character as she sports a Southern accent while grounding her beloved Sailor. Nicolas Cage is equally as great as the Elvis-like Sailor in a character that's fun to watch. Here's a guy who has swagger, charm, and is also dangerous. He loves his jacket (don't insult the jacket) and he loves his woman. Yet, he's also flawed since he doesn't make the right decisions or try to do what's right for her. The two actors have great chemistry as they exude sexuality and excitement as well as pain that's hurting them inside.

Prior to its premiere at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, the film was getting into troubled during some poor reception at some test screenings. Then when the film premiered, in competition, at the Cannes Film Festival. It immediately received a divided response from audiences and critics and it only got worse when it surprisingly won the Palme D'or that a mix of cheers and boos happened. When it was officially released in August of that year, mixed reviews happened all over again while Lynch's notorious detractor Roger Ebert gave him another bad review.

Despite recouping its $10 million budget, the film only did OK at the box office as Lynch-mania was now starting to wain. It was also at this time that the second season of Twin Peaks started and everything went to hell as Lynch's career was starting to get into a freefall despite some acclaim for Wild at Heart and an Oscar nomination for Diane Ladd.

While not an entirely perfect film, Wild at Heart is still a wonderful, surreal, and seductive film from David Lynch and company. With a great cast led by Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Crispin Glover, Harry Dean Stanton, and J.E. Freeman. It's a film that has all of the touches that David Lynch is known for as well as his diverse group of actors. Those new to the actor should see this after watching Blue Velvet to get familiar with his filmmaking style. For anyone that wants to see a crazy road film that is filled with passion, excitement, and over-the-top scenery, Wild at Heart is the film to go see.

© thevoid99 2011


Andy Buckle said...

I remember really hating this film when I saw it.

I have since dismissed that viewing, and intend to watch it again someday.

thevoid99 said...

I didn't get it the first time either. At least it wasn't Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. That was pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

I liked this one a lot probably because the love story in its own way is a sweet one, although I think Lynch gets lost in his own madness at times here. Good Review Steve!

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-It is a great love story but a crazy one that at times, gets repetitive. Still, it's an exciting film to watch with Nic Cage wearing a cool jacket (don't insult the jacket).