The latest work from writer/director Tara Miele (Staring in Suburbia, The Lake Effect) is a classic case of style over substance starring two great actors doing their best to draw us into this messy, sometimes confusing story of an unmarried couple attempting to reconnect to save their relationship…even though one of them might be dead.
Wander Darkly introduces us to new parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), who admittedly are struggling to stay civil even before they have a child. After their baby is born, things start to heat up. He’s a freelance woodworker who is frequently working, sometimes on a job out of town for weeks at a time, which causes problems when Adrienne begins to feel like she’s raising their child alone. After a largely miserable date night away from their baby, they get into a terrible car accident and Adrienne wakes up outside of her hospitalized body, believing herself to be dead. She begins to see moments from her life, thinking she’s seeing her life play out before her eyes before she heads off to the great beyond, when suddenly the Matteo in one of her memories begins to talk to her, stopping her from jumping off a bridge just to see what happens. Does this mean he can see her? Is he dead too? Or is this a version of Matteo that she’s composed to talk her through these sometimes flawed memories? “That’s not what happened,” he sometimes tells her before showing her the corrected remembrance.
The chronology of Adrienne’s memories is in no way linear, so scenes and moments blend together. One second she’s inside curled up in bed, and when she rolls over, she’s outside in a field of grass. The visual transitions are masterfully handled by Miele, even if the full impact of this style of storytelling was lost on me. Slowly but surely, Adrienne begins to think that maybe she didn’t die in the accident, but instead suffered a brain injury that is messing with her memories and sense of time, making her believe she’s dead. In a truly bizarre coincidence, I recently saw a lecture on YouTube about a rare mental illness in which people believe they have died and don’t understand how other people can stand the sight and smells of their rotting corpse above ground. These people aren’t suicidal; they don’t want to be dead, they just think they are. And when I thought that might be what Adrienne was suffering from, I felt very ahead of the curve.
But few things are that simple in Wander Darkly. As the couple rediscover what made them fall in love, seeing key moments—good and bad—in their relationship, they compare notes, sometimes bicker over details, and usually come up with an accurate memory together. But every so often, Adrienne spots a figure that resembles Death in a crowd or in the darkness and she remembers what she is and how nothing about this moment in time makes sense. Portions of the film are confusing and disorienting, but it also has the capacity to be warm, heartbreaking and affirming about the special nature of certain entanglements.
Luna is genuinely great here, playing variations of Matteo—how his partner sees him, how he sees himself, and the compromise—while Miller is great in everything, even when she’s suffering through garbage material (which I’m not saying this movie is). She never stops doing everything in her substantial power to make her performance memorable, even when the script doesn’t deserve her. When Wander Darkly finally reveals what’s really going on, what really happened in the accident, it’s all a bit anticlimactic, but that doesn’t keep the film’s messages about living for the moment and uncertain futures from getting through and having a degree of impact. Giving the performers most of the credit for its success, if you’re tired of your traditional love stories, this one might be worth checking out.
The film can be viewed in theaters that are open and via VOD.
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