I’m going to be completely honest, here. I have no clue how to start this. How DO you segue into a David Lynch review?
Wild At Heart is about two young, wanton lovers: Sailor and Lula. Sailor’s a decent guy that’s a bit rough around the edges, and Lula is his sexpot main squeeze. The movie opens with Sailor beating the life out of a thug hired to kill him by Lula’s mother, who despises Sailor and won’t tolerate seeing those two together. It’s a rather brutal and shrill scene, with Lula screaming at the top of her lungs and Sailor hurting the thug so bad a part of his SKULL breaks off. Naturally, the coppers haul him off to the pokey for a few years for manslaughter. When he finally gets out, Lula’s waiting for him and they go off on a road trip full of sex, strange and rock-n-roll. But Lula’s mother is still disapproving, and she has the connections it takes to see to it that Sailor’s rubbed out.
So what makes this a movie like this worth taking a look at, you wonder? Road trip movies are a dime a dozen. But you haven’t seen David Lynch’s road trip movie. And his touch here is unmistakable. Would anyone else have put a beat-down so over-the-top at the beginning of the movie? Would anyone else have Sailor stop a rock concert to sing his own version of an Elvis song?! It definitely elevates a story that could’ve gotten pedestrian pretty quick.
But where this movie really shines is in the little moments. Sailor and Lula are driving down a country highway and the only stuff that seems to be on the radio are these awful news pieces. They finally find a good rock song and they pull over and start flipping the fuck out with dance moves and roundhouse kicks. Lula’s mother starts going insane with guilt over sending one of her lovers out to murder the other on the way to killing Sailor and starts covering her hands and face with red lipstick. Sailor and Lula come across a car crash late at night and have to watch a young woman slowly die from head trauma. Lula receives a premonition that she’s pregnant that consists of her on an operating table with blood flowing out of her in tubes and her agonized face magnified by a hospital instrument. They’re very difficult to effectively describe, but they add a lot of character to the movie. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the movie works much better scene-to-scene than it does when you look at it from an overall sense. It’s just full of little nuggets of Lynch goodness while the movie itself is sort of just a story about two people trying to make their relationship work. Ho-hum.
But he certainly tries to dress it in a way to make it seem deeper and more interesting than it probably is. Throughout the entire movie, allusions are made to The Wizard of Oz, although I don’t think the movie’s a total allegory for that. Just little bits here and there like a weird time jump device of a crystal ball, a shot of Lula’s mother’s curly-toed slippers and a surprise final act visitation by none other than the Good Witch. I’m not entirely sure what this is trying to evoke. Maybe Lula’s innocent belief in a world where they can be happy that gets corrupted? There’s also the visual motif throughout the movie of burning and fire. Loving close-ups are given of Sailor and Lula lighting their cigarettes and the title sequence is just the credits on top of a flaming background. Maybe symbolic of the wild, unpredictable and destructive nature of the world at large? If anyone can take a better stab at it than I can, feel free to in the comments.
Acting-wise, it’s another Lynch affair, full of over-the-top zaniness and ridiculous intensity. And who better to headline a movie like that than Nicholas Cage? He’s basically made a career out of smothering movies with his off-kilter charisma, and this is no different. Although this is Cage near the start of his career, he’s still Cage. And he’s easily the worst part of the movie. He just sorta does a schtick throughout the whole thing. I can’t really call it acting. If you love Nicholas Cage, you’ll find a lot of stuff to love here, but if you’re neutral or worse, at least you won’t be scowling at the TV in anger.
Laura Dern, David Lynch’s muse, returns in a role rather opposite to the one she played in his classic film Blue Velvet. While there she was the perfect suburbanite white bread love interest, here she’s more of a rock-n-roll chick with a love of partying and the feel of Sailor’s cock inside her (her words, not mine!). It’s clear that Lula took her general aesthetic from hair metal band music videos and wouldn’t look out of place straddling the sports car of a member of Poison. Laura gives it all the white-trash gusto she can, and she really is great to watch. The scene she has where she’s molested by Bobby Peru bears the same disturbing surrendering to her character that she had in Inland Empire.
And Willem Dafoe playing that same Bobby Peru, a grimy, sleazy scumball… damn. Not that Lynch needed to go the extra mile of making Willem appear ghoulish, but he decided to get some extra credit this time and put Willem in ugly dentures that give him a really low gum-line that just makes him appear all the more inbred and awful. It’s obvious just by looking at him that Bobby wasn’t created to be sympathetic and he solidifies that assumption by almost raping Lula and conspiring to assassinate Sailor with an Isabella Rossellini in a dreadful blond wig. (Little did Lynch know that she would later dump him for younger, more silent-film-centric auteurs.) Willem does a great job and this is probably going to be the role that defines him for me from now on. I can’t imagine him as the Green Goblin anymore, that’s how nutty and awful and indelible his presence is in here.
As an aside, Crispin Glover happens to be in this movie and his role is as absurd and unnerving as you’d imagine it to be. I’m just glad he didn’t waste his opportunity to be in a Lynch flick. Kudos to Diane Ladd, who plays Lula’s mother Marietta. Coincidentally, she’s also Laura Dern’s real life mother. Also, this movie was filled with Twin Peaks cast members. Have fun finding them all!
At the end of the day, I feel it was a fine way to spend two hours. Lynch is always worth at least a cursory glance, and even though this movie’s almost pure white trash in subject matter, it’s the great white trash literary epic. It elevates this couple that would otherwise be on an episode of Jerry Springer and makes some interesting art out of them. It may take every idiosyncratic contortion Lynch has to keep it fresh, but if that’s what it takes, so be it. A lot of people point out the Lula/Bobby molestation scene as one of the most important scenes in the film, or the wacky Nicholas Cage musical number at the finale, I have to say the real heart of the movie is near the middle, where Sailor and Lula are riding down the highway in the pitch black of night with naught but the hypnotic Chris Isaak track “Wicked Game” to fill the void. Sailor confesses to Lula what he knows about the circumstances leading to her father’s untimely demise and a sense of uneasiness and hurt fills the entire scene. Little by little, Lula’s fantasies of what a life of pure freedom will bring her are being crushed and at this point, the concealing gauze around the man she loves is being lifted and she’s not sure she can take what she sees. It’s a quiet scene compared to the freak show of the rest of the movie, but I think it’s hard to find one there that’s more engrossing or that cut more deeply to me. Even when Lynch is just trying to make a decent movie, he can stumble across just the right mood, just the right combination of sight and sound to spark something in me. I think that’s as good a recommendation as I can give of this film, and I hope it can do the same to you.