For whatever reason, WILD AT HEART doesn’t quite get the same love as the rest of David Lynch’s catalog. In some ways, that’s understandable. It’s not as rich and engrossing as TWIN PEAKS, it’s not as dark and twisted as BLUE VELVET, it’s not as Academy-good as THE ELEPHANT MAN, and it’s not as ERASERHEAD as ERASERHEAD. And yet, in many ways, it’s the ultimate David Lynch film, combining all the elements he’s known for – the sinister ambience, the goofy humor, the deft use of music – and packs them all into a bright, eminently appealing sampler.
One thing that is undeniable is that Lynch was at the peak (har, har) of his powers: his previous film, BLUE VELVET, had firmly established the David Lynch brand, and he had just finished shooting the pilot of his masterpiece, TWIN PEAKS. The plot (adapted from a novel by Barry Gifford, with whom Lynch would later collaborate on the script for LOST HIGHWAY) concerns star-crossed lovers Sailor and Lula, who are on the run from Lula’s batshit-insane mother, Marietta Fortune. Along the way, they encounter an increasingly bizarre series of freaks and criminals, many of whom were hired by Marietta to track and/or kill them. Through it all, they persevere, through their shared love of Elvis, THE WIZARD OF OZ, Sailor’s snakeskin jacket (which represents a symbol of his individuality and belief in personal freedom), and each other.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Lynch is working with arguably the best cast of his career. Lula is played by longtime Lynch ingenue Laura Dern, while Sailor is played by Oscar-winner/enigma Nicolas Cage, here doing his best Elvis impression (Cage Theorists tend to group this film alongside RAISING ARIZONA: undeniably great movies from his late-’80s heyday, which nevertheless hint at the madness to come). Supporting them are Dern’s real-life mother Diane Ladd as Marietta, Harry Dean Stanton as private investigator Johnnie Farragut, frequent Lynch muse Isabella Rossellini as gypsy hitwoman Perdita Durango, Crispin Glover as alien-obsessed Cousin Dell, and a sizable portion of the TWIN PEAKS cast, including Sherilyn Fenn, Grace Zabriskie, Jack Nance, David Patrick Kelly, and Sheryl “Laura Palmer” Lee, who plays Glinda the Good Witch. The stand-out, however, is Willem Dafoe as hitman Bobby Peru. With his creepy drawl, filed-down teeth, and penchant for goofy jokes, Dafoe practically owns the third act of the film. He is by turns hilarious and terrifying, frequently within seconds of each other. He is, in short, the very embodiment of a David Lynch film.
WILD AT HEART (1990) dir. David Lynch
Friday, 3/7 & Saturday, 3/8, 11:59 PM
Coolidge Corner Theatre (290 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA 02446)