Kyle Armstrong’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Can you inject love's tender touch back into the gang bang?/
Can you knit the stiletto back into the bloodstain?/
Can you put the bite back into the beast you've broke, and tied and tamed?/
Can you crease the wrinkles back into the cracked and open brain?"
- Every Breath is a Bomb, The Blood Brothers
Always love a metalhead/burnout aesthetic. Hits me on a personal level.
I don't think Lynch can miss, and working with what's arguably his best cast lineup, it's an easy win for him.
But like, can you fuckin' imagine this being someone's first Lynch film?!
In the context of Lynch's career, this is a pivotal film, and sets the tone for where his films would go afterward. In the context of Cage's career, it's also a key example of the connective tissue between Vampire's Kiss and Mandy, i.e. the Weird parts of his filmography. (Admittedly, though, I think this style actually came out first in Moonstruck, but that's a discussion for another day.) I think for people who are huge Lynch and Cage fans, this is essential viewing, but without that contextual knowledge....it probably makes fuck all sense.
I think a large part of that is due to the editing, which, even with some Lynch exposure, is jarring as hell, and takes a while to first get used to, and then accept. I don't think it's bad, but it's definitely a choice, and I'd get anyone who wrote this off simply because of the editing.
My big issue, though, is the thematic depth. The Wizard of Oz allusions are fun and obvious, but in a postmodern way that only probably works the first time through. The problem is that the main story itself doesn't really seem to be saying much. It's a fun story, but it's never deep enough to be what I'd classify as a narrative, y'know? It's a fairy tale, and it's simple like one, too. I think Lynch would agree, but it leaves little impact. Normally, this is where Lynch picks up the slack with his surrealist motifs, and while some of them work as slow-burners [the lipstick face allusion to MacBeth; Jack Nance's dog scene about the futility of communication; the midpoint scene, which initially feels tangential but actually works really well by the end], but other surreal moments just feel 'what the fuck' for the sake of feeling 'what the fuck' [the pigeon guy; the naked BBWs]. I don't think all this takes away from the fun, but it leaves less of an impression beyond aesthetics admiration.
One theme I do think works, though, is the use of diegetic music and sound. The use of thrash metal as dance music, the elevating of Elvis' camp deep cuts to high romance, the use of high pitch side vocals from characters who don't matter, the New Orleans jazz being background music. It all feels like Lynch is using these kitsch, forgettable sounds because we ourselves often develop deep ties to these same sounds and equate them with the high romances of our own lives. When we're reckless in love, we hear the music everywhere. When that music drops out, and Dern is forced to listen to talk radio, of course she gets upset. What good is reality when we can have the fleeting sounds of subgenres no one will recall in a generation or two? It's comes as no surprise, either, that the longer Cage and Dern's romance plays, the more the music fades out, both figuratively and literally. This line stands out for that exact reason:
"Oye, Amigo. If ever something don't feel right to you, remember what Pancho said to the Cisco Kid. 'Let's win, before we're dancin' at the end of a rope, without music.'"
But beyond this intriguing thematic element, there's little to the story itself that I will be thinking about long after this viewing. All I'm left with are scenes and performances, which are all enjoyable (or, when they're no enjoyable - and you know which ones aren't - they're memorable). Acting-driven films are great, don't get me wrong, but I don't know if they hold much weight over time.
Beyond this, the aesthetic will certainly stick with me, but it would've meant more to my little post-hardcore loving punk ass 10 years ago, for sure. What is incredible, though, is that while I can see the influence of this aesthetic - from Natural Born Killers to Mandy - this film still feels incredibly fresh. And again, that's all thanks to this amazing cast, which is a personal dream cast for me. But it especially speaks to Lynch's own talent. Truth is, low-tier Lynch is still high-tier cinema, and I'd be straight up lying if I said I'm never going to watch this again. (I might even go to a screening if I can, if only to make up for the bad quality stream I watched because for some reason this isn't available anywhere, despite winning a Palm fuckin' D'Or.)