A middlingly received yet critically well-regarded film, Wild at Heart is – for me, at least – one of David Lynch’s finest works of all time. The unashamedly stylish, ‘Rock and Roll’ film weds many a cultural nod to stellar performances from an exceptional cast to tell the story of Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and his love, Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) who is, in the oddball, surrealist fashion synonymous with the director, are pursued by hired goon’s set on their tale by the disapproving mother of Lula, a woman out to stop the inexplicable powers of the world’s strongest emotion.
Adapting Barry Gifford’s novel of the same name (with a few, slight changes), Wild at Heart is, in my opinion at least, the perfect starting point for anybody unfamiliar with the American director. Released a mere months after the iconic Twin Peaks hit TV screens, the film is the most measured and closest to ‘conventional’ that the prolific Lynch has ever crafted, and that honour will likely remain intact for the rest of his working career. No doubt a narrative influence on the likes of Scott Pilgrim vs The World the direction and performance conspire to make a thrilling and typically dark twist on the romance genre.
A ‘hang-out movie’ of sorts, the setup asks a lot of its two leads and to no shock at all given their lasting star powers, Cage and Dern deliver with ease. Self-describing his character as a “romantic Southern outlaw” the Elvis loving, snakeskin jacket toting Sailor has a strong case for being Cage’s career-best role. With a tendency to burst into song part of the character’s omnipresent charm, it’s hard to not be lured in by the loveable scamp who seeks nothing more than to nobly settle with his totally enamoured and smitten Lula. A turn that leans into Cage’s slightly unhinged qualities, his delivery is truly phenomenal almost using that ‘Deep South’ twang as a crutch, preventing a ‘dead behind the eyes’ performance and really adding to the enigmatic qualities of the man.
Opposite Cage is of course Laura Dern’s, Lula. Equal and equally exceptional in every right, Lula is arguably the most significant character among the whole cast. Recipient of by far the most depth, as well as effectively being the plot’s catalyst, Dern’s rage is jaw-dropping, from a reserved and seemingly submissive figure to pure hysteria in the switch of a scene, Lula might lack the enigma of her boyfriend, but the life bought to the character by the star and the contrast between her and her mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd) makes for a really arresting dynamic and intense game of cat and mouse as the young, runaway couple are pursued by the disapproving mother.
Its support cast is just as memorable, something really endemic of Lynch’s filmography as he casts frequent collaborators amid stars both known and less so in the process of bringing together a perfect ensemble. Fronted by the aforementioned Diane Ladd and the ever-incredible Willem Dafoe, the term ‘Lynchian’ is more than applicable here – as this review’s title would suggest. As cast plays a large part in defining his works, the supporting lineup of oddballs and the outlandish goes a long way to fleshing out the world, bringing with it an air of grounding or believability… well, as much as a Lynch film can fit into it.
Stylistically, Wild at Heart remains on brand. Comparatively a ‘lesser offender’ the surrealism here is a little dialled down and more of an infrequent feature. When it does rear its head, oddly it doesn’t feel too out of place especially considering that it riffs on The Wizard of Oz a choice that certainly adds to its heightened, fantastical atmosphere on show throughout, across the board the film is beyond technically exceptional. The process of becoming a lot more well-versed in Lynch’s work has also seen a swell of additions to my playlist and it’s certainly not a coincidence! From a recurring hard rock/metal-ish sting to Elvis hits and the ridiculously catchy Wicked Game by Chris Isaak I’m not wholly convinced that his projects aren’t just a means for the director to flex his impeccable music taste and if I’m anything of measurement to go by then I’m sure you’ll be heading over to your music app of choice during and after watching to make some new additions.
Keeping it as spoiler-free as I possibly can, I’ll bow out on the final note of a recommendation – something for everyone, Lynch fans both old and new Wild at Heart is a two-plus hour, really engaging spin on a genre that is crying out for a little more ingenuity and life breathing into it, track it down.