2020, R, 97 min. Directed by Tara Miele. Starring Diego Luna, Sienna Miller, Beth Grant, Tory Kittles, Aimee Carrero, Dan Gill, Ayden Mayeri.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Dec. 11, 2020
Never be a superficially perfect couple in the opening moments of a film. Matteo (Luna) and Adrienne (Miller) have everything going for them in Wander Darkly: a new home, a new baby, just everything they can want. But that's the surface. The reality is that they're seconds from falling apart, and can't even make it through one party without bickering.
Wander Darkly slams straight into the fracture point as Adrienne dies in a car crash, and finds herself in a limbo of her own recollections. Or it could be that Adrienne has Cotard's Syndrome – the delusional conviction that she is dead. That explains why her sudden fascination with zombie movies, and discussions about her funeral wardrobe, but also why Matteo is trying to get her to work through her issues with an experimental therapy.
The story is a tumble of memories and moments, as Adrienne falls back through her memories with Matteo. They bicker and bond as she tries to put the pieces of what she is leaving behind together into a convincing narrative, one with which she can live (or die, depending on your viewpoint). The obvious mile marker here would be the relationship deconstruction of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it's more a post-mumblecore What Dreams May Come, a mix of agnostic afterlife fantasy and hand-held camerawork. Both partners in the relationship have extramarital flirtations (Carrero as the flirtatious younger woman who has more in common with Matteo than Adrienne is comfortable with, and Kittles, charming his way into Adrienne's arthouse world). Their "he saw/she recalled" narrative back-and-forth places different emphases on guilt and responsibility. Yet Wander Darkly is not simply about what happened, but about how we remember what happened, and how both the action and the interpretation have significance. It's a story built on broken expectations, and sometime the rug-pulling is less deserved than at other points.
Miele's sometimes overly-tricksy, often too-direct script is salvaged by her direction and the astonishing editing work by Tamara Meem and Alex O'Flinn, who bring a true emotional structure to a narrative built on moments seen over and again, interpreted and reinterpreted. The story isn't as strong as the way it's told, and Miele's understanding of the complexities of love and relationships is deepest when the narrative is in flux, rather than any breakthroughs or resolutions. Love is worth it, as Matteo says, if it gets messy and hard.
But what really keeps Wander Darkly together is yet another convoluted, conflicted, and honest performance from Miller. Much as American Woman, she brings all the fractured traits of her character to the surface without sacrificing her inner life.