Tara Miele’s Wander Darkly is a romance, but it is also a thriller with supernatural elements to it. It begins with Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) celebrating the birth of their child, which is this glowy idyllic moment, before we transition to the darker side of things. It is clear that despite having a child together, the pair are in a bit of a rut – she’s insecure about his love for her, while he is frustrated with how she tries to control everything. Are they headed towards an end?
Before we can observe the fallout, another kind of fallout occurs, with Adrienne and Matteo getting into an accident. Adrienne finds herself floating through the hospital – she sees her dead body and flashforwards to her funeral, her daughter growing up. Having seen all this, she believes she’s dead, lingering around for some unfinished business, which comes in the form of Matteo. He can see her, however, he tells her that she’s not dead. There is uncertainty here as to who is right, since for most of the movie, it is just the two of them interacting together, flitting through their memories of each other.
What I love about the film is its structure, where these memories are conjured by both Adrienne and Matteo, but they don’t relive the scene as it was. They talk through it from the present, which colours it with a different perspective. Miele doesn’t want to show us the rosy hue of young love, she wants us to be privy to the sight of the jaded eyes that look back. This is especially so for Adrienne, whose reminiscing often takes darker turns before Matteo corrects her. There is a constant fear that plagues her, be it through her jealousy of the attention Matteo gets from a particular girl, or how triggered she gets when someone calls him her husband even though he’s not. She is so scared of him leaving her that she lashes out, and this takes a toll on the relationship.
The transitions between each memory are so wonderfully done, and I enjoyed putting the pieces together. Initially, as we leap from memory to memory, unsure of what’s going on, if she’s alive or dead, it might feel a bit messy and incoherent. But as we traverse deeper and deeper into the state of their relationship, with truths unearthed and the two making peace with the parts they played in the way things ended up, the pieces will glisten with alarming intensity, where you suddenly realise where this is going, where it was always going, but you didn’t notice because you were too busy trying to figure out this state of purgatory.
Adrienne is in purgatory, but not the kind we assume, as Miele wanders us to the film’s dark, heartbreaking ending. Sienna Miller delivers such a riveting, poignant performance. While the film may not always hold our attention, she does. She makes Adrienne so nuanced and compelling, and both she and Luna have credible chemistry together. Luna too is allowed the space to indulge in more emotional moments, but this is Adrienne’s story more than Matteo’s, so while we do get both sides, we remain rooted in her perspective for the entire film.
For me, the conclusion of the film works, because this is the direction the film has been heading in. However, since it is a twist of sorts, others might find it cheap and a tad unearned. It’s not an easy film to unpack and much like other genre-blending romances that came before it (The Adjustment Bureau comes to mind), there will be the usual detractors. Wander Darkly has an interesting premise and structure, good lead performances, and handles both genres in a competent way, so the one and a half hours spent were completely worthwhile to me.
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Though Tara Miele's Wander Darkly brings us into the darker spaces of romance, there is still the beating heart of love amidst the fears and insecurities - that the joys of love don't leave you, even in the face of loss.
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