Something Wild

Something Wild. Orion Pictures 1986.
Something Wild. Orion Pictures 1986.

Before watching the movie:

Here’s something lighter after the last couple of weeks. Jeff Daniels plays an office drone who gets kidnapped into an adventure by a woman with his polar opposite personality.

This was an automatic suggestion I’d never heard of before. Sometime I ought to just rifle through Jeff Daniels’ filmography, since I keep finding interesting stuff I never knew he was in.

The poster style makes me think it’s from earlier in the 80s than it is, but everything I can point to as to why could also apply to the early 90s.

After watching the movie:

Charles Driggs, straight-laced newly-promoted banking V.P., gets called out on a dine and dash by a vivacious young woman who introduces herself as Lulu. She offers to give him a ride back to work and instead drives him away to a liquor store (which she robs), then to a motel to get a room. He protests that he has a wife and kids to get back to, but not very strongly. As Charlie grows accustomed to Lulu’s casual lifestyle, the next day she drives him out of state to present to her mother as her perfect husband, revealing her name is actually Audrey, and then to continue the act at her high school reunion, where they run into her not-quite ex-husband Ray, fresh out of prison and expecting to have Audrey back.

This is “light” like The Graduate is light. Charlie is struggling to keep up with where he’s being dragged through most of the movie and it may be intended to be funny, but my only response was to feel just as trapped as him. In the “chaotic person comes into his life and turns it upside down” concept, I felt the downsides of the turning upside down more keenly than a comedy should allow.

I did appreciate that the movie doesn’t waste time introducing Charlie’s careful life, beginning right when “Lulu” disrupts it and letting his reactions establish his character. However, while this seems to be mainly to facilitate some later revelations about his normal life, it also makes some of the developments seem unearned. Running into a coworker at the reunion isn’t too far off, but the coworker is established as someone he ought to barely know and once the guy is established, he seems more and more familiar with Charlie to a degree that seems inconsistent with how he was introduced.

Once Ray is introduced, the tone reveals how light it actually had been by shifting into the second half of Fatal Attraction. Ray is clearly trouble from the start, but it takes forever for Charlie to realize it. Of course, by the time he does, things have gotten worse. Once again, the stakes are too high to take it as a comedy. Charlie not getting it is as funny as a character in a slasher movie walking into the same room we last saw the murderer enter.

This does enough travelling to qualify as a road movie, so it’s not surprising how episodic the plot structure feels. Every time the location or day changes there’s a strong feeling of a different chapter, and usually a different Lola/Audrey. The only chapter I really enjoyed was the part where Charlie meets her mother, and had it ended there it could have been a sweet short film.

Sometimes comedies are subtle, and action comedies may have the adventure drown out the humor on the first viewing, but when I look back on them, I usually find I enjoyed the ride. I can’t say that about this movie. It just starts unpleasant and gets worse until it’s time for the happy ending. I can’t recommend this on my experience, but most other opinions I’ve seen are favorable. They all agree it’s funny, but I just can’t.

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