‘Wander Darkly’ Review
By their very nature, ambitious filmmakers take risks that other filmmakers won’t, sometimes to the detriment of their own success. However, for those of us who maintain a crazy pace of movie watching, we tend to relish those who find a way to try something different – turn a familiar story into one we might not have seen before. So hats off to writer-director Tara Miele (The Lake Effect, 2010) for jolting the frequently used flashback effect and turning it into an interactive experience, in Wander Darkly.
Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are a normal couple going through the kind of rough patch that many couples will relate to. They have chosen to not get married, yet they have a newborn baby and recently purchased a home (despite job situations that don’t seem to add up). The pressures of adulting have resulted in frustrations and distrust to the point that Adrienne questions if the relationship should even continue. Their solution is scheduling “date nights,” and the one we see is a date night gone bad and then worse.
What follows is Adrienne and Matteo on a surreal trek through the hazy memories of their relationship via moments in time that play like foggy dreams. We see good moments and bad, and the two hash out what they are really thinking at the time – all while Adrienne tries to make sense of her new situation. There are some similarities here to Michel Gondry’s excellent Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), but at its core, this is a heartfelt examination of trauma, love, memories, and grief as they relate and impact a relationship.
Beth Grant provides support work as Adrienne’s mother, but it’s Sienna Miller who delivers what may be a career-best performance. She has always been a fine actress, but this may be the widest range of emotions she’s ever had to convey. The dialogue may be a bit sketchy at times, but we recognize every portion of this flawed relationship. Watching a couple re-live actual past situations and debate on what was said or what was meant is a history lesson that cuts deeply. A clip from Night of the Living Dead is purposeful in its inclusion, but I won’t disclose anything further in regards to the nature of these characters and what they go through. I’ll only say that filmmaker Miele (a Grand Jury award winner at Sundance) does really nice work in showing how physical trauma and emotional trauma so often go hand-in-hand.