If any genre is associated most closely with the 80s, it is the classic teen sex comedy. Studios knew that audiences – mostly guys, because studios don’t often cater to women – wanted to see skin and hear young people say bawdy things in their pursuit of the ultimate fun time. Some of these were more memorable than others; when you look at a stone cold classic like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it is obvious that there is more going on with the film than just boobs and stoner humor. This is thanks in part to the naturalistic writing of the great Cameron Crowe, who would go on to make some of the most memorable films of his generation. Before he would go on to the likes of Say Anything or Almost Famous, he would attempt to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with the spiritual sequel to Fast Times, the 1984 comedy The Wild Life. Despite a Penn – Chris, not Sean – once again being in the lead, the film never received the adoration of that earlier film. It lacks much of the depth of its predecessor, but those looking for decent sex comedy should find it hits the right notes.
The sprawling cast of characters that occupy this typical 80s Los Angeles suburb are on the precipice of major life changes and filled to the brim with raging hormones. After the recent graduation of many of our key players, there is a sense of existential confusion as the transition from teenager to adult comes with various complications. The rowdy Tom (Chris Penn, True Romance) has a healthy sense of self-adulation as a high school wrestling champ, which leads to some dissonance between wanting to indulge in his hedonistic ways and create something real with his girlfriend, Eileen (Jenny Wright, St. Elmo’s Fire). At the same time, Eileen is dealing with her own issues working at a trendy department store with Harry (Rick Moranis, Ghostbusters), who sees potential in Eileen, among other things. Bill (Eric Stoltz, Some Kind of Wonderful) is more put together than his friend Tom, but he is still eager to become a full-fledged adult with his own place while attempting to get over his ex-girlfriend, Anita (Lea Thompson, Back to the Future), who is dealing with her own relationship issues.
All of these stories weave in and out of one another, but one that stands out as particularly insular is appropriately Jim (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, Weird Science), the younger brother of Bill who is something of a loner. Jim has a fixation with Vietnam and has a general anarchic aura about him that makes him mysterious, which he hopes is good enough to attract the local girl at the bowling alley. The best and worst part of this particular film is that it is none too complicated. Crowe typically has a way of writing to the everyday problems of the youth, but none of the scenarios seem to have significant depth. You could argue that Anita has the most interesting arc, as her unintentional affair with a police officer brings some sobering moments to an otherwise raucous atmosphere, yet most of these characters do not seem to learn anything particularly noteworthy about growing up. There are visits to strip clubs and ridiculous house parties that get out of control, but everything seems pretty surface level in the end.
Despite the lack of depth on display in the narrative, the film remains a pretty fun time. If you are wanting a standard entry into the genre, you will be greeted with all the typical tropes you might want. The advantage of this film is the great performances from all involved. The characters are not particularly nuanced, but each performer is giving their all and bringing more to each character than was probably on the page. Don’t go in expecting an undiscovered classic in the genre and you will find a lot to laugh about.
The Wild Life makes its Blu-Ray debut courtesy of Kino Classics with a digital AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 that appears to be derived from a really solid older master that is in good shape. Instances of print damage such as nicks and scratches occasionally pop up, but overall clarity and detail is excellent. The presentation is enjoyable throughout most of the runtime with image stability and delineation being passable, if not spectacular. This transfer maintains some of the natural film grain of the original presentation, but there does seem to be some instances of smoothing over. The picture can run a bit soft in long shots, but colors are well saturated with the vivid hues of the various settings coming through. Skin tones are mostly natural with some subtle distinct facial features noticeable in closeup. Black levels are not the strongest with precise shadow detail lacking and some crush evident. This presentation is a good effort that works in lieu of a new master.
This new Blu-Ray comes with a wonderful lossless DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix that delivers all of the sounds of the film extremely well. The dialogue holds up wonderfully, coming through clearly without being trounced on by the music or sound effects. The environmental effects are delineated nicely from the raucous nature of the strip club to the subtle sounds of the donut shop. The track avoids most instances of age related wear and tear or distortion. This is a film that utilizes music well, including a killer soundtrack of 70s and 80s tunes. This and all of the other music is presented with great clarity and a pleasing fidelity as they come through the room. This is a track that represents the film in a rock solid manner. Optional English subtitles are provided on this disc.
- Audio Commentary: Writer/Podcaster Mike McBeardo McPadden, Author of TEEN MOVIE HELL and Author/Disc Jockey Ian Christe give a fun and fact-filled commentary track in which the two discuss the film’s place in 80s teen sex comedy history, the homages to other films of the time, the performers in the film and their subsequent careers, the soundtrack and much more. These two have a great affection for the film and genre at large, which makes this a really interesting listen.
- Walk The Wild Side – Interview with Co-Star Ilan Mitchell-Smith: A 15-minute conversation with the actor in which he discusses his experiences with The Wild Life including the casting process, his experience with Cameron Crowe, his memories of his co-stars including an especially weird one with Randy Quaid, deleted comedy bits, his relationship with acting and much more.
- Radio Spots: A nearly five-minute collection of audio spots from the original promotional blitz is included here.
- Trailers: The two-minute original trailer for The Wild Life is provided here. There are also trailers provided for The Allnighter, Hard to Hold and North Shore.
The Wild Life does not reach the emotional depths of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, but it works fairly well as a stupid teen sex comedy. You know what you are getting with this type of film; it is not interested in being politically correct, and the characters are not incredibly complex. Nonetheless, it delivers its fair share of hilarity and gratuitous nudity – if that is what you are searching for in a cinematic adventure. Kino Classics has brought this one to Blu-Ray with a solid A/V presentation and a nice selection of supplemental features. If you are a fan of this forgotten 80s comedy, this disc should be pleasant enough.
The Wild Life is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.