Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wild at Heart: Lynch in Limbo

Written for LAMB, the Nicholas Cage blog-fest Dir: David Lynch, 1990 (Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, J.E. Freeman, Diane Ladd, Calvin Lockhart, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn, Pruitt Taylor Vince) Ironically, the film starts in Cape Fear, "somewhere on the coast of South Carolina". Mother from hell Diane Ladd (Dern’s real mother) gets her boyfriend to go after Cage with a knife, who beats him to death, picks him up to throw him and the guys legs are still walking. "Hey, let’s do another take, his brains are hanging out already; second that.. it’s lunchtime". Laura Dern (totally hot eye candy here) plays "Lula", Cage "Sailor", but he likes to call Lula "Peanut", as in "rockin good news, Peanut!". Well, it ain’t rockin till Sailor does some time for excessive self-defense. When he gets out, Lula greets him with his snakeskin jacket. "This here jacket represents my individuality and my belief in personal freedom". They take off together, and we get to hear repartee like this: Lula: "One of these days that ole sun is gonna come up and burn a hole clean through the planet like an electrical x-ray." Sailor: "That’ll never happen, not in our lifetime… by then they’ll be driving buicks to the moon." Unfortunately, Cage delivers most of his lines like a stoned Elvis, he seems unusually uninvolved with this part, unlike some others where he seems perhaps too involved (National Treasure).
The mother gets boyfriend Harry Dean Stanton to go after them first, then she hires a hit man as well to go take out Sailor and bring her daughter back. Only this hit man, Santos, hates Stanton as well and figures getting to kill him is icing. Much of the story is told in flashback, which disrupts the continuity, especially since we’re constantly flashing to the same background scene, the manslaughter one. In between those, we get to see languid conversations while they smoke, gratuitous shots of Dern topless, Cage’s Elvis impersonation at a live punk club no less, singing "Please Love Me", complete with fake crowd screaming (why this odd effect I wonder?). Sailor tells Lula, "The way your head works is God’s own private mystery." Lula says, "You remind me of my daddy. Mama told me he liked skinny girls whose breasts stood up and said hello." She also tells him how her dad poured kerosene all over himself and set himself on fire. Yep, typical David Lynch comedy, and typical bedroom bantor.
The film becomes a road film, as the couple heads to New Orleans, but it has more style than pace or story. For a crime film it kinda oozes along, but it’s Dern that does most of the oozing, not Cage, he just kind of acts like he’s just hanging out. Lynch throws in some assorted freaks and "trailer trash", as usual, but he doesn’t seem to really know how to use them. Wild has some "Blue Velvet" touches, but this time instead of Rossellini singing, it’s a huge blues singer in New Orleans in a blue sequined dress with red hair. Then we get more hot love talk: Lula: "Sailor, you got me hotter’n Georgia asphault" Sailor: "Ok, but go easy on me baby, tomorrow we got a lot of driving to do." There’s a mysterious car wreck scene in the desert that Lula and Sailor come across, with several bodies, with Sherilyn Fenn running around with a severe head wound, and dies in front of them. I think at this point I was wondering if this was a comedy, or just David Lynch. Several times this film wavers between the light-hearted (wild punk dancing beside the highway) and supreme darkness, almost as if he couldn’t decide himself how serious this. In this regard, Lynch failed to capture the essense of the Barry Gilford novel, which was definitely lighter than this film. Eventually the road trip ends in hell on earth: Greater Tuna, Texas. There we run into an assortment of trash at a motor court, headed by Willem Dafoe, with the ugliest teeth outside of Austin Powers. We also are introduced to a unibrowed Isabella Rossellini, almost hard to recognize in her blonde wig, but the unibrow gave it away. Several times in the film we are almost introduced to the song "Blue Velvet", which of course Isabella sang in that film, but each time Lynch changes at the last instant and we never get the velvet. The characters, especially Laura Dern, are also referencing Oz quite often, but we never get that either, all we get is Greater Tuna. We are shown a more botched bank robbery than the Coen Bros put into Raising Arizona even, a guard’s hand gets shot off ("they sew it back on, it’ll work almost good as new") and before he can retrieve it a dog is carrying it away (OK, one funny image in the whole film!); Dafoe meets with the wrong end of his shotgun, and Sailor is being held to the ground by law enforcement. Aw, shucks… boys, "treat me right", it’s off to the can again. The epilogue is five years later when Lula, with little Sailor Jr. in tow, picks him up at the railroad "yard". Guess Lynch couldn’t find a real depot. A "real nuclear family unit", from hell or Greater Tuna, or now South Carolina, wherever trash is allowed outside. Lynch got lost somewhere on Route 66, and ended up in limbo, and we ended up there with him. Not a comedy, not a drama either, just a road film with Nicholas Cage sleep-walk.. er, sleep-driving through a nightmarish landscape we are forced to share with him. Unfortunately we don’t also get to share a naked Laura Dern, but at least Lynch got her naked onscreen as much as he could, otherwise this film would be very hard to look at. As Lula said, "This whole world is wild at heart, and weird on top." Wisdom for the ages, you bet…

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