Wander Darkly

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Wander Darkly
dir-scr Tara Miele
prd Lynette Howell Taylor, Samantha Housman, Shivani Rawat, Monica Levinson
with Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Vanessa Bayer, Brett Rice, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles, James Landry Hebert, Dan Gill, Ethan Cohn, Lamont Thompson, Olivia Popp
release US 11.Dec.20
20/US 1h37

miller luna grant

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Wander Darkly
With its bird's eye opening shot, it's clear that writer-director Tara Miele wants to tell a story about normal people. So when it quickly shifts into something existential and emotive, at least it feels grounded in reality. The film's metaphysical unpicking of a relationship is ambitious and indulgent as it weaves together a series of scenes that are powerfully involving, even if the gimmick keeps it somewhat distant.
In Los Angeles, new parents Adrienne and Mateo (Miller and Luna) are enjoying their infant daughter, but are dealing with fractures in their relationship. After they're in a car crash, reality begins to spin. Adrienne finds herself observing Mateo, helpless to intervene as her loathed mother Patty (Grant) assumes guardianship of the child. Then Adrienne meets Mateo in the street, and he tries to walk her through this experience as the emotions of her entire life rush back at her. But things begin to get scary when she spots a hooded figure in a memory.
Adrienne is forced to relive her past out of sequence, trying to piece together the threads of what has happened while violins shriek in composer Alex Weston's score. As it swirls attractively through various perplexing scenes, this severely fragmented narrative hints at a range of interpretations, from parallel realities to mental illness. Or perhaps this is a story about lingering trauma and grief, as Adrienne's childbirth was particularly difficult. Each moment is powerfully resonant, digging into deep emotions, but the kaleidoscopic approach makes it hard to care what the truth is.

Miller and Luna are terrific in the only defined roles, bringing open-handed feelings to their interaction, whether its deliriously happy or badly strained. Miller makes Adrienne both alert and bewildered as she tries to understand what's happening to her, while Luna's Mateo is adorably matter-of-fact about it. The flickering flashbacks cover their entire relationship as they discuss their different perspectives of incidents while reliving them. It's an offbeat approach that takes some getting used to, but the actors play it beautifully.

Miele's hyper-romantic writing and direction audaciously mix scenes up with surreal details, making unusual connections between people and events. Skilfully shot and edited, the elements are often jarring and contradictory, as one unnervingly surreal sequence undermines another. But there's a sort of through-line, with suspicions and revelations that continually redefine this relationship, as if they're in a phantasmagorical couple's therapy session. Where it goes isn't particularly coherent or helpful, but it does carry a moving kick.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 6.Dec.20

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