Barry Gifford’s neopulp novel inspired this controversial cult film from director David Lynch. A star-crossed couple on the lam (Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern) is in for the most gruesome ride of their lives when they encounter a handful of bizarre — and perhaps murderous — strangers (played by the likes of Sheryl Lee and Willem Dafoe).
“Wild at Heart” (1990)
Rating: 7 out of 10
This is a film that at its very core is quite standard. It’s not like we haven’t seen a “lovers on the run” film before. Who they’re running from or why they’re running is really pointless. The idea is that you take lovers on the road and see what happens to them on the journey. David Lynch’s approach is to add a dash of Lynchian weirdness to offset that and give it its own identity and, in that vein, he’s successful. It reminded me a little of the Godard classic “Breathless” with its scenes with a couple inside small rooms, constantly on the run, and its climatic confrontation. However, where Godard was restrained and fun, Lynch is over the top, weird and violent.
There are two performances that really stand out to help lift this film from mediocrity. Ironically, both actresses come from the same family. Real life mother Diane Ladd and daughter Laura Dern are both excellent in their respective roles. Ladd displays an over the top evil with a level of self-absorption rarely seen in a fictional character. Dern meanwhile has a certain innocence. She’s hopelessly in love and in dire need for someone to take her away from her mother’s hold but she leaves a little opening that there might be a little bit of darkness under the surface. There are other good performances in small bit character:s Willem Dafoe, nearly unrecognizable behind the ugliest teeth ever, Harry Dean Stanton as a hopelessly pussy whipped man who will do anything for Ladd’s affection, and Crispin Glover in a small but funny part. Nicolas Cage however doesn’t fare as well. The dialogue sounds hokey and hackneyed whenever he’s speaking and any time he’s trying to be sincere it comes across as disingenuous. He’s fine whenever it is a scene of over the top emotion but he just cannot play straight drama.
Visually, this is pretty restrained by Lynch standards. It has his usual strangeness added with quirky characters and weird colored costume choices but he seems to be holding back a little. I wondered whether a script that was essentially about a poor white trash Elvis meeting a rich Marilyn Monroe type on the road was weird enough that it didn’t need his usual flair. I also had issue with the ending. I won’t give it away but it tidied things up too easily. There’s way too much baggage between these characters to simply pretend that nothing happened. Also, why the happy ending? Cage’s entire existence revolved around a certain level of self-destruction. Why would it all come together for him? However, don’t let all my negative sentiments towards certain aspects hold you back from viewing it. If oyu’re any bit of a Lynch fan, you’ll enjoy it. If you’re not, you’ll probably rate this lower.