Wild at Heart is a lot of things, a satire of teenage romance, a crime thriller, and a parody of The Wizard of Oz. Director David Lynch has stirred all these various ingredients to a satisfying but somewhat disappointing end result that’s not near the mastery of the filmmaker’s other pictures. Lynch succeeded with his oddball look at the dread behind the curtains of the American suburbia in Blue Velvet, which Wild at Heart bears in tone but lacks the same emotional punch. There are plenty of strong ideas in the film but not enough coherence to create a strong enough narrative between them. Still, Wild at Heart is an energetic romp that’s a violent and erotic thrill-ride.
The opening of Wild at Heart serves as a mighty introduction for the characters, as Sailor Ripley (Nic Cage), who speaks and dresses like Elvis Presley, beats a man to death to the shock of those around him before pulling out a cigarette in a sweaty huff. That man was hired by Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd) to kill off Sailor since she disapproves of him seeing her daughter Lula (Lynch regular Laura Dern). After serving time in prison for manslaughter, Sailor takes Lula away for a cross-country road trip all the way from New Orleans to California. Marietta angrily responds by putting a bounty on Sailor in an effort to get her daughter back home.
The love between Sailor and Lula is much like that of Bonnie and Clyde, they’re two outlaws and misfits trying to discover their place in society. The two visit nightclubs and meet sideshows on the road why listening to metal and having sex in cheap motels. Both try to discover the world on their own and soon they realize more about the danger of living on the road as well as themselves.
As any Lynch movie there’s plenty of shining moments and scenes, such as a rendition of “Love Me” done by Cage, but there’s nothing quite as stirring as the thing behind the dumpster in Mulholland Dr. or the radiator girl in Eraserhead, nor is there a strong enough connection between scenes and I thought some major plot points were passed off for a long period of time (spoilers: the lengthy disappearance of Marietta in the middle of the picture and the involvement of Sailor in Lula’s father’s death for example).
However, these bumps aside, Wild at Heart is very well done. The chemistry between Cage and Dern keeps the movie from growing too unstable (Cage is particularly good at keeping between the lines of humor and violence; his character is often absurdly funny and unexpectedly violent). And William Dafoe steals scenes in his small role as a small town criminal Sailor and Lula encounter who is more than what he appears.
While it’s not up to Lynch’s usual high standards and lacks the vigor of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, I much enjoyed Wild at Heart. It’s an incomplete and somewhat unfocused picture but there’s much to like.