WANDER DARKLY – Review
With everyone seemingly in the big December “frenzy” in preparing for the big holiday (the presents, the cards, the travel) the next holiday just days afterward often gets a bit of a “and also” status. You know, as “Happy New Year” gets “tacked on” to the “Merry Christmas”, or just engulfed in the dreaded (by those few that still think there’s a “war” on it) “happy holidays”. Since current events and health concerns will probably curtail or just completely eliminate those big “seeing out the old” parties, you may have to virtually watch 2020 tick away (and many will rightly say, “Good riddance”). This quieter “big countdown” could make you really reflect on how your life “so far” is measuring up. As this week’s new film release shows, a big traumatic event could prompt that feeling more than the “midnight bubbly”. And that’s why this movie couple, for most of the story’s runtime, is compelled to WANDER DARKLY.
The couple in question is new parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) who almost get into a squabble (why is he puttering around in his garage work station and not getting ready) as they begin a pre-planned “date night”. There’s more grumbling in the car on the way to the trendy LA eatery. The couple meets up with some friends during the wait to be seated which prompts another “discussion” as Adrienne excuses herself to chat with an old friend/work connection Liam (Tory Kittles). Post-dinner, Matteo “gets into it” with her about ditching them to say hi to what he thinks is an old beau. And then their vehicle is filled with light as another car just “comes out of nowhere”. The world tumbles and seems to explode into tiny glass fragments. Adrienne slowly opens her eyes, sees the clock/radio flashing “88:88”, and hears the “drip…drip…drip” of fluid hitting the pavement. Closing her eyes, her vision flickers to reveal her outside her body, looking at herself in a busy hospital ER as its staff rushes about. Then she’s in the morgue as someone is on a metal tray being pushed into their big “body file cabinet”. Is it her or…no…there’s Matteo. As he joins her, they soon begin on a journey throughout their lives together, often with a conflicting “he said…she said” commentary. They watch themselves flirt and “hook up” at a party, then date along with their BFF couple Maggie (Vanessa Bayer) and Dane (Dan Gill) as Matteo is tempted by the daughter of an employer, Shea (Aimee Carrero). As the couple lives together we watch the tension between him and future mother-in-law Patty (Beth Grant), which almost derails their journey to marriage and parenthood. So are both of them really okay after the crash, or are they trapped in an endless loop of memories, drifting between life and death? So who’s still here and who has “checked out”?
The impact of the story rests on the very capable shoulders of two of most talented and charismatic actors. For much of the post-accident features, Miller as Adrienne acts as sort of a guide as she, along with the viewer, tries to regain her footing in this ever-changing “dreamscape”. In the early sequences, Miller conveys the frazzled daily life of this fairly new mom who is often frustrated by a spouse who seems to thwart her needs. After that fateful drive, Miller is in a near-constant state of disoriented panic as she sees herself in the more dire situations. But we get her lighter side as she becomes a “ghost” to their courtship, from flirty “meet cute” to the “full tilt” of romantic splendor. That sometimes fuels her fury as she sees her heated rival swoop in on her love in what may or may not be her memorial. Luna makes for an interesting counterpoint to the volatile Miller as the often too easy-going Matteo. He’s a smitten puppy at their first meeting but truly brings his “A” game in the wooing of Adrienne. Although he too has his aggravations as his “buttons” get pushed by her and particularly her mum, who’s played with needling exasperation by Grant. And big kudos for giving underused SNL vet Bayer a chance to spread her dramatic wings as the best BFF anybody could ever want.
Writer/director Tara Miele guides the duo through the complicated ups and downs of modern young marriage while keeping us and the characters constantly “off-balance”. There are no flashy CGI effects to convey the “nether-world”, instead she carefully adjusts our view through fractured imagery, odd angles, and sound tweaking. Unfortunately, the film seems to lose much of its focus, as what would be a compelling short or part of an anthology (or a compact, strange late show flick like 1960’s public domain gem CARNIVAL OF SOULS) begins “spinning its wheels” towards a somewhat soft final act. And some of the repeating bits, like the flashing clock numbers and the dark hooded figure (fear the reaper) become obvious and heavy-handed. The two leads are compelling, but the rambling story and sluggish pace may cause your mind to WANDER DARKLY
1.5 Out of 4
WANDER DARKLY opens in select theatres and is available as a video-on-demand via most streaming apps and platforms