David Lynch. What can one say? I mean, there is rarely a comparison to Lynch when it comes to personal style, flare and signature vision. Cronenberg, on occasion, has delivered a similar ‘feel’, albeit more singular in stretch and certainly nothing as brazenly masterful as ‘Eraserhead’ will always remain. And yet, there is something about David Lynch that I have since found almost off-putting. Possibly his inability to progress and or adapt, something that could and possibly should cause me to praise him. Sadly, the more I see from him the less I’m willing to embrace.
I won’t attest to seeing everything Lynch has released. I still have yet to see any of his shorts or television work (including ‘Twin Peaks’ in any of its forms) and I have not seen ‘The Straight Story’, but I’d think that ‘Eraserhead’, ‘The Elephant Man’, ‘Blue Velvet’, ‘Wild at Heart’, ‘Lost Highway’, Mulholland Dr.’ and ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ constitute as enough in order to base a solid opinion of one’s career thus far.
My friends hate me for saying this, and I would probably hate something else for saying it too. You see, that is the feeling one gets when watching a David Lynch film or when examining his filmography. Lynch is such a unique presence that one can’t help but feel compelled to praise him. His work can feel self-congratulatory at times, and thus a tad off-putting or purposefully avant-garde, and then one can’t ignore the fact that he is always true to his aesthetic and thus deserving of respect and at least a smidgen of admiration, despite what one feels about his finished product. My issue with Lynch, which was really born after my initial viewing of ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ and continues to spill into my reception of his 90’s work, is that he seems to regurgitate too many of his own ideas into mirror images or at least mirrored thematics, and not in an way that feels refreshed or at least necessary. That isn’t to say that films like ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ or ‘Wild at Heart’ are bad films, they just don’t feel as connective as they need to in order to justify their stark similarities. ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.’ both suffer the most from this particular ‘fault’, to the point where ‘INLAND EMPIRE’ comes across cheap and lazy since it borrow so heavily from ‘Mulholland Dr.’, which was exquisite and borderline perfection (arguably Lynch’s most mature work to date). Films like ‘Lost Highway’ and ‘Wild at Heart’ suffer from Lynch’s desire to delve into the bizarre to the point where it overtakes his storytelling abilities; hijacking his films and stunting their lyrical progression.
And that brings me to this review (sorry, but I felt the need to lay down some groundwork).
‘Wild at Heart’ was one of those films I really felt the need to see. It was one of those blind spots I had in my attempt to embrace all things David Lynch. Like I said, more recent viewings of his work had left me hesitant to a degree, but the overwhelming goodwill I have towards the man that brought me ‘Eraserhead’ (still one the greatest films I’ve ever seen), ‘The Elephant Man’ and ‘Mulholland Dr.’ kept me anxious to see it all. I knew that this was more in line with his more bizarre work, like ‘Lost Highway’ (which I was not a real fan of) but I wanted to see Dern and her mother soak in the scenery (god, those stills looked breathtaking). So, I finally got a hold of this after almost two years of trying (Netflix tied up and no video rental having a copy). I’ll say this first, it is beautiful to watch. From a technical standpoint, I was awestruck. The costumes, the set pieces, the cinematography, Laura Dern; all of it was just drool inducing. After that though, things started to fall apart for me.
The biggest issue I have with this film is the script. I know that have come to appreciate that nothing is EVER as it seems with David Lynch. He just has this uncontrollable urge to mess with everything to the point where it leaves you completely confused as to what you think you’re actually witnessing. But, with ‘Wild at Heart’, he took things to a point where the senselessness of it all seemed to be rather overbearing. The pulled in faux restraint that he imbues on every scene (faux because you know that his intentional subtlety is only a ploy to illicit more drama) is distracting and creates a feeling of discomfort. The way he tries to force on us a contrived interwoven fairytale (those silly ‘Wizard of Oz’ references that fail to implant themselves into the actual fabric of the film itself) feel out of place and confused. Then you have the performances, none of which truly register outside of Dern (who is deliciously bizarre and completely unforgettable). Cage is gross, channeling a poor Elvis impersonator with no likability whatsoever. Diane Ladd is so over the top and unrealistic (I know, this Lynch’s universe so that should be expected and yet…) that her awards attention and cult admiration is baffling. I’m usually in love with Lynch’s supporting ladies. I’ve always stated that Isabella Rossellini should have won the Oscar in 1986 for her brilliant performance in ‘Blue Velvet’ (she wasn’t even nominated) and I’d personally doll out nominations to Jeanne Bates (‘Eraserhead’), Anne Bancroft (‘The Elephant Man’) and Patricia Arquette (‘Lost Highway’) and yet I cannot embrace Ladd’s ridiculous performance.
And god, don’t get me started on the preposterousness that is Willem Defoe here.
At the end of the day, I just can’t get behind this film. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t contain enough incentive to actually prod me to try and make sense of it. I know that there are many, many supporters of this film, most of which consider Lynch one of the greatest filmmakers of our time (and on most days I agree with this for the aforementioned reasons in the outset of this review) but I have to call it like I see it, and I see it like this; ‘Wild at Heart’ is at the bottom of Lynch’s list of achievements.