×

‘Wander Darkly’: Film Review

Miserable new mom Sienna Miller is unsure if she's dead or delusional in Tara Miele's slippery time-bending romance.

Director:
Tara Miele
With:

Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero

Running time: 97 MIN.

Miserable parents Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) can’t afford therapy. Instead, Adrienne settles for a free Date Night, a casual party that only reminds the couple of their problems: his wish to regress to a slacker-style flophouse, her resentment that he’s never proposed, which has begun to curdle into a suspicion that they’re a bad match, albeit one saddled with a 6-month-old daughter named Ellie and a new mortgage. They can’t rewind time. They can, however, re-experience it, after a gruesome car crash in “Wander Darkly’s” opening setup climaxes in Adrienne coming-to bleeding, delusional and certain she’s dead.

Is she? Writer-director Tara Miele’s slippery drama keeps the audience unsteady on their feet as the “It’s a Wonderful Life”-like structure follows Adrienne, skipping from her funeral forward 15 years, as Ellie (Inde Navarrette), now an angry teen, is living with her mother Patty (Beth Grant). A hallucinatory sequence might start in Matteo’s wood-shop and spiral the pair back to a romantic day in Mexico before spitting them out at the traumatic crash, concrete dissolving into a beach melting into an oil slick beneath them.

Matteo hopes that if he tells Adrienne the story of their relationship, she’ll rejoin the living, instead of watching zombie movies on the couch and sighing, “These are my people.” Together, they revisit their major moments, though they disagree on everything, including the facts. As they prepare to sleep together for the first time (again), Adrienne laughs that she’s glad they no longer have to use condoms. “That’s because we don’t have sex anymore,” Matteo jokes, instantly regretting the bitter crack. But Miele allows the moment to be funny and nostalgic, until a candle ignites the curtains. Adrienne claims Matteo abandoned her in the flaming bedroom. Matteo insists he ran to get the fire extinguisher. The memories clash because their pain has rewritten the past.

Popular on Variety

Miller and Luna play the couple with a wry detachment — the half-in, half-out suspicion of lovers who’ve stopped being vulnerable. Their cynicism allows them to sidestep big, predictable emotions for subtler layers. Miller’s Adrienne is resigned to the worst, whether that’s a casket or a break-up. Luna gives Matteo the fickle charm of a playboy used to getting his way, often by passive resistance. He’s terrifically funny, and so is she when mocking his flirtatious friend Shae (Aimee Carrero), who sashays into several recollections attempting to split up the couple. And yet, their knockabout frenemy banter falls short of feeling like true love. The chemistry isn’t quite compelling enough for the heartbreaking urgency “Wander Darkly” needs to deepen into something more than a well-done, worthwhile exercise.

Alex Weston’s plinking piano score is a lovely, steady accompaniment to Carolina Costa’s dizzying cinematography which whisks from domestic to surrealistic in a blink. Assembling the shoot must have taken militaristic precision. Sometimes, characters will pad out of the room in one shirt, and return in another, the only clue that weeks of time have passed. Miele charts the film by her characters’ emotional currents, and tries to simplify matters by having the couple blurt out exactly what they feel and why. Still, focusing on Christopher Lawrence’s costume changes can be the closest thing audiences have to a tether. In lieu of rooting for Adrienne and Matteo to find their way forward together — even Miele seems unconvinced they should reconcile — “Wander Darkly” is on steadier ground when each acknowledges how their actions contributed to the schism. “I should have loved you better,” admits Adrienne. Dead or alive, that’s an eternal truth.

'Wander Darkly': Film Review

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 25, 2020. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production:

A 51 Entertainment, ShivHans Pictures presentation. (Int'l sales: Endeavor Content, Los Angeles.) Producers: Lynette Howell Taylor, Samantha Housman, Shivani Rawat, Monica Levinson. Executive Producers: Mark Katchur, Connor Flanagan.

Crew:

Director: Tara Miele. Screenplay: Miele. Camera: Carolina Costa. Editors: Tamara Meem, Alex O'Flinn. Music: Alex Weston.

With:

Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero

, Tory Kittles, Vanessa Bayer, Inde Navarrette.

More Film

  • Liam Neeson Widows

    Film News Roundup: Liam Neeson's Comedy 'Made in Italy' Sells to IFC

    In today’s film news roundup, IFC buys a Liam Neeson comedy and STX takes territories on Karen Gillan and Lena Headey’s “Gunpowder Milkshake.” ACQUISITIONS IFC Films is acquiring U.S. rights to James D’Arcy’s feature directorial debut, “Made In Italy,” starring Liam Neeson and Micheál Richardson. Popular on Variety “Made In Italy” will receive a traditional [...]

  • Baby Peggy

    Diana Serra Cary, Child Star Known as Baby Peggy, Dies at 101

    Diana Serra Cary, the child silent film star known by the nickname Baby Peggy, died on Monday in Gustine, Calif. She was 101. Born on October 29, 1918 as Peggy Jean Montgomery, Cary began her career in the film industry at the early age of 19 months. During a visit with her mother and a [...]

  • Riz Ahmed

    Riz Ahmed on Creating ‘A Really Personal Piece of Work’ with ‘Mogul Mowgli’

    The idea for “Mogul Mowgli” first began in 2017 when British actor, rapper and activist Riz Ahmed met Bassam Tariq, a producer and independent filmmaker, between trips to New York. Almost three years later, the pair is debuting “Mogul Mowgli” in Berlin’s Panorama. The film, which Tariq directed and co-wrote with Ahmed, who also stars, [...]

  • David Permut

    'Hacksaw Ridge' Producer Developing Colombo Crime Family Son's Story (EXCLUSIVE)

    David Permut, the Oscar-nominated producer of “Hacksaw Ridge,” has acquired the life rights to the story of John Franzese Jr., the son of the Colombo crime family’s second-in-command, Sonny Franzese. The elder Franzese passed away on Sunday at the age of 103. Franzese Jr. became active in the family business during the 1980s, leading to [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Annabella Sciorra on Weinstein Verdict: 'We Can Never Regret Breaking the Silence'

    Annabella Sciorra hailed the guilty verdict against ex-mogul Harvey Weinstein, which included a “criminal sexual act” and third-degree rape, on Monday. Weinstein was also acquitted on two counts of predatory sexual assault that centered on Sciorra’s testimony — indicating that the jurors did not believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Weinstein had raped and assaulted [...]

  • Gabrielle Carteris participates in Fox's "BH90210"

    SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris on Weinstein Verdict: 'You Can't Hide Any Longer'

    SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris has hailed the verdicts in the Harvey Weinstein case, with the disgraced ex-mogul found guilty of committing a criminal sexual act and third-degree rape. “Justice was served today and Harvey Weinstein was held accountable for his crimes,” Carteris said. “But it is only a beginning. We look forward to the Weinstein [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content