It’s hard for any movie to live up to a reputation built up over years, or decades, of praise and ever growing status. It’s even harder when that reputation was initially built on some sort of ground breaking, new approach to film making. It’s even harder still, when the ground breaking newness was all about weirdness. Because what was weird and ground breaking 30 years ago, is more than likely going to be copied and ripped off through the years following, to make that original seem a little tired and tame as well. I don’t know exactly what I expected from David Lynch’s revered Blue Velvet, but I do know I expected more than what I got.
Returning from college to his small home town after his father suffers a stroke, Jeffrey Baeumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is immediately dragged into a seedy underworld of crime, sex and violence, after randomly finding a severed human ear in a field. The ear leads him to local cop, Detective Williams (George Dickerson), which leads him to an immediate crush on the detective’s daughter, Laura Dern as Sandy Williams.
Beginning their own amateur investigations into the found ear, Jeffrey and Sandy find Isabella Rosellini’s Dorothy Vallens, a nightclub singer, partial to performing the song of the movie’s title. Not so partial to being beaten by Frank (Dennis Hopper), a gas huffing local whack job and drug runner who’s holding Dorothy’s young son hostage. The more Jeffrey digs, the more dangerous things become, and the more people are revealed to be involved in some way.
That might sound like a pretty convoluted plot, but it’s really not. Which is where Blue Velvet let me down. I haven’t seen many David Lynch movies, but he has a reputation for mind bending weirdness. I’ve seen The Elephant Man, which is an amazingly restrained, straight forward biopic. But I’ve also seen Eraserhead, which was exactly the kind of balls out craziness I had always assumed it to be. I saw about half of Lost Highway not long after it came out, but got bored and never bothered finishing it. What I do remember though, is the weirdness.
But here, with Blue Velvet, you get a super straight forward, by the numbers crime / mystery plot where an everyday dude is out of his depth,only sinking deeper and getting more desperate with each plot revelation. Sure, there are some weird character quirks thrown in there to make it a bit more art house, but it’s all pretty superficial, surface stuff.
The performances didn’t help either. I’ve always found MacLachlan pretty wooden and boring. I can’t think of a single Laura Dern role I like, and Isabella Rosellini is so over the top that all of her emoting comes off as more funny than tragic. But you do get a fantastic Hopper bat shit, loony tunes performance. And that’s always a good thing.
I’m willing to give Blue Velvet the benefit of the doubt and blame my underwhelmed reaction on the fact that it needs the context of when it was made to really appreciate how game changing it was. Or maybe I’m not smart enough to get it. But in the end, it just didn’t really grab me in any way. I felt every single minute of its two hour running time.