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113 minutes
A synthesis of the pop/sociological/exploitation strands of his earlier work (Citizens Band, Melvin and Howard, etc), Jonathan Demme's picaresque joyride across the American landscape is still arguably the best thing he's ever done. Jeff Daniels is Charlie, a New York corporate schmo who becomes sexual prey to Melanie Griffith's Lulu (a nod to Pabst's Pandora's Box) and later punching bag for her estranged, psychotic husband (Ray Liotta). Demme's concerned with the ways his characters interrelate, bobbing between Preston Sturges social farce and Blue Velvet antisocial nightmare, but also with the American character generally, the environments that give messy shape to individual lives, force and urgency to particular obsessions. Not the best film of its year (1986), but the best American one—in its action-movie energy, in its preference for practical sociology over ruminating psychology.

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