The second now-obscure Jonathan Demme movie I’ve convinced Katy to watch with me – obscure, I thought, until I realized that it’s got a big Criterion reissue this month. Fun movie, but it couldn’t quite shake the dull grime of the 1980’s or transcend the sappy yuppy spirit of Jeff Daniels’s character. Mostly I loved the music – about fifty songs by members of Talking Heads, X, New Order and (in person!) The Feelies. I also appreciated the similarity with Blue Velvet from the same year – naive boy goes on adventure, meets wicked man who appears to be his opposite but proclaims “we’re the same.”
Daniels thinks he’s living dangerously when he gets picked up by Melanie Griffith and whisked away from his boring banker life, but she’s a vanilla cupcake next to her career criminal husband Ray Liotta, who whisks her right back. Daniels finally steps up from his passive role, follows the couple and steals Griffith back, leading to a final face-off as the movie gets darker. After all that, I like how Griffith almost leaves him for lying about his marital status, the lie being worse in her eyes than cheating on a loving wife would have been. Writer E. Max Frye would later make the Cage/Jackson caper Amos & Andrew, which I think I watched once on cable.
What distinguishes Demme’s film is that his hero’s journey is not just a matter of surviving all the dangers and torments that are thrown at him. He undergoes a profound exposure to the different classes, backgrounds, and ethnicities that make up America, and ultimately questions what he does and just who he is.
Thompson also mentions one of the characteristics that makes Demme’s movies so appealing to me, and possibly to frequent collaborator David Byrne as well. “He has a fond eye for the textures of Americana: the boasting billboards, the friendly signs, the even friendlier storekeepers, the name tags sported by waitresses, the gospel chapels.”