Sometimes movies from the 80's go under my radar and I don't know how the fuck it happens. Especially when it's an 80's teen romp. Especially when it's written by Cameron Crowe, the genius behind Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. Whe I first discovered The Wild Life(1984) a few weeks ago, all I could I could do was feel confused and ask myself "how?". How did I miss a movie starring Christopher Penn, Eric Stoltz, and Lea Thompson? Regardless of how it happened, it was obvious that I needed to procure a copy ASAP. Typically I sit on new movies for at least a couple of days, but The Wild Life was in the DVD player immediately.
The Wild Life takes place somewhere in SoCal. Not surprising since Hollywood seemed to think American teens weren't cool unless they were in the LA Metro area. Eric Stoltz plays Bill Conrad, a recent graduate and bowling alley employee who is about to enter adulthood by moving into his own apartment. Unfortunately, Bill gets dicked out of an affordable apartment and is conned by the scumbag landlord into taking a place a bit out of his ball-shining price range. So bill takes on his coworker Tom, played by Chris Penn, as a roomie. Whereas Bill is pretty straight-laced and eager to jump into adult responsibility, Tom is pretty much the polar opposite. Tom likes to spend his time being as irresponsible as possible. If he's not smoking weed and getting kicked out of strip clubs, he's constantly harassing his girlfriend at work. Not exactly prime roommate material. If Bill is not stressing out about his apartment situation, he has to worry about his little brother, Jim, who is a bit of a weirdo. Not like a nerdy sort of weirdo either. Jim is more of the Columbine type. He has a shellshocked, junky vet(Randy Quaid) for a best friend and likes to glamorize 'Nam and act like a psychopath. Throw in an ex-girfriend(Lea Thompson)who maintains a worksex relationship with a sleazy cop and it looks like Bill's idea of adulthood might be a little to much for him.
As with most of these 80's comedy gems, sex and partying are supposed to play a major role throughout the movie. Unlike most movies of this genre and period, there is actually a considerable amount of character development, much like Fast Times. Unlike Fast Times, fun and character development was all of what The Wild Life had. Fast Times dealt with a fair amount of social issues, like abortion and teenage awkwardness to counter the "party time" atmosphere of fun. Wild Life was pretty much all fun. Some of the commentators on IMDB might think a lack of seriousness makes for a better movie, but i would have to disagree. If it wasn't for the character development, the Wild Life would be just another teen movie(sic). Because of this I would actually put it in a better place than a flick like Meatballs. If the movie actually dealt with social issues of the time as a plot point it would be more memorable like its writer's previous endeavor. I'm assuming Crowe was a bit rushed to write a script based on the success of Fast Times. If he had spent a little more time on serious plot points rather than boobs and beer, I probably never would have missed this movie growing up.
My critique may sound a bit negative, but I did enjoy The Wild Life. Chris Penn's Spicoli-like character was on point and Stoltz reminded me of an 80's Topher Grace, making a perfect straight man. Being a bit of an awkward loser in my formative teen year, I especially related to Jim Conrad, with the exception of the war fetish. If you crave something more out of your 80's boobfest, this is probably the movie for you. If not, there are plenty of Meatballs and Porky's rip-offs out there.