The hallucinatory opening of Wild Fire immediately captivates the viewer. Director and writer Jennifer Cooney conveys middle-aged Elliana’s overwhelming grief for her husband through the canted images of her disorderly room. The widow sits alone in her large, empty, and white modernist home. This is the setting of her 50th birthday party, a crowded, raucous celebration that turns into an intimate game of truth or dare by the end of the night. A small group of friends and lovers reveal their deepest secrets and sexual fantasies.
The Wild Fire ensemble are strong performers, creating raw characters with compelling anxieties. Del and Avery participate in roleplay to keep their relationship spicy; Ronnie is married to Tom but secretly masturbates to women; Maeve and Noah struggle to be intimate with one another. However, their individuality gets lost in Cooney’s voyeuristic framing, plodding pace, and overall melodramatic approach. The reoccurring close-ups shots are beautiful but feel cold and distant.
Wild Fire is clearly inspired by The Big Chill (with a queer twist!), but Cooney’s heavy-handedness prevents it from being as emotionally resonant as Lawrence Kasdan’s classic film. The histrionic stylings are amplified by the musical score of mawkish strings and overly-intense piano.
Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see a contemporary film that is so unabashedly erotic. The sex scenes in Wild Fire are varied, ranging from soft and warm to tense and provocative. The group conversations about sex, love, life, and death are intellectually stimulating. Despite its flaws, Wild Fire radiates with the kind of intensity and sexual intrigue that is sorely missing from our current film landscape.