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Review: Wild at Heart (1990)

Directed by: | 120 minutes | , , , , | Actors: Nicolas Cage, , Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, J.E. Freeman, Harry Dean Stanton, Isabella Rossellini, , , , Gregg Dandridge, , , , ,

Satire can work great if it is played convincingly, applied in moderation and embedded in a good story. If all three are missing, even the cinematographic talents of David Lynch can no longer save the furniture. “Wild at Heart” is satire squared and that weighs heavily on the actors. Nicholas Cage – who by nature already seems like a bastard son of the king – is supposed to play an Elvis impersonator and Laura Dern’s innocent teenage girl in “Blue Velvet” (1986) a parody of a trashy vamp. Cage and Dern act so artificial and over the top that it threatens to become laughable. Cage comes across as uninspired and Dern even desperate, as if they were asking the impossible. The one-dimensional character of Diane Ladd still gets away with it, but only Willem Dafoe and Isabella Rossellini seem to be able to live up to the extremely caricature of the in small supporting roles.

“Wild at Heart” is a pastiche of road movies, romantic films and “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) with a cascade of references to the clichés of American culture: the backward South; individuality and personal freedom; Vietnam; rock n roll, everything is ripped off at any time; this causes the emotional eloquence to die; After all, “Wild at Heart” does have some promising moments. Like the mood transition from passion to marital grind when Lula turns out to be pregnant (“, you’ve been drinkin, huh?”); the story of “cousin” Dell; the chilling depiction of Lulas abortion; the scene in which gangster Bobby Peru (Dafoe) threatens, excites and then rejects Lula and finally the fairy godmother who makes Sailor see the light (“, If you are truly wild at heart, you’ll fight for your dreams”). Everything using the picture tricks also used in “Blue Velvet” and “Twin Peaks”, but it no longer works. It’s the profusion of satire that spoils it: too much whipped cream on too little cake. “Oh man,” Sailor sighs upon seeing the cartoonish beheading of Bobby Peru. In this way a film becomes a parody in itself.

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