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Wander Darkly

****
2020

‘…somewhere between Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, but more blurred, adult and agonising than either…’

Grief and bereavement are a hard sell for movies; in real life, there’s a moment when you wake up from a dream, confused for a moment about who amongst your loved ones are alive, and who is not. It’s a dream-state, but not a happy one, a sense of purgatory, of confusion, and it’s a world that writer/director Tara Miele bravely sets pretty much her entire movie in here. So, with trigger warnings attached, Wander Darkly arrives as a home streaming option in the UK in a middle of awards season; too dark, perhaps, for voter recognition, but worthy of attention.

In an LA caught in a constant rotation of sunsets and sunrise, two lovers piece their relationship together, over and over again. Adrienne is played by Sienna Miller, Matteo by Diego Luna. They bicker in their car on the way back from a social engagement that doesn’t spark much joy; a car crosses the road in front of them and smashes directly into them. Adrienne wakes up; is she alive or dead? Matteo seems to be still with her; is he alive, or is he just a memory, jumbled up with the past? Adrienne’s mind moves backwards and forwards through real and imagined events, eventually settling on a truth that’s hard to accept. This film, if it’s not immediately obvious from the synopsis, is not for the faint of heart; this is somewhere between Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, but more blurred, adult and agonising than either.

So why bother putting ourselves through the mill? Let’s start with Miller, an actress once known for the gossip column rather than movies, reinvented. Somehow, something changed; from American Sniper to 2018’s criminally underseen American Woman, Miller has transformed herself from zero to heroine, capable of carrying a film, giving a blazing performance. Luna, from Y tu mama tambien and Rogue One, matches her with his nuanced work at Matteo. It’s a tough gig for the audience, but his relationship with Adrienne is easy to relate to and root for, yet unlikely to lead to a happy ending as the characters navigate the Day of the Dead

Amongst the producer credits, Monica Levinson deserves a spotlight as a top female producer du jour, with Borat 2 and The Trail of the Chicago 7 both reaping large audiences and awards; we’re a long way here from perhaps 2020’s most irrepressible cinematic image of Borat and his daughter’s ‘happy dance’ down the street when they first arrive in America. Wander Darkly uses the kind of intensity that a short film might have, and gambles by extending that intensity to feature length; yes, this could work as a two person play, but you’d lose the intense and disorientating feeling that the elaborate cross-cutting creates. The result will be too much for some, but for those seeking the hard, cutting edge of how immersive cinema can be, Miller and Luna do a sterling job here of reminding us of the fragility of love and life, as we experience it from day to day.

Wander Darkly hits streaming services in the UK from today, March 8th 2021.

Thanks to Lionsgate for access to this title.

https://www.lionsgate.com/movies/wander-darkly

Comments

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  1. tough movie to review without giving away the ending, so bravo for walking us thru and setting the tone! While I like non linear, I’m not overly fond of unreliable narrators, but make an exception here. I agree this is largely about ruminations on grief and guilt; it’s a heavy handful, and well titled. It’s also a bit Carnival of Souls, a bit Truly, Madly, Deeply…and may be hard to fathom for anyone who hasn’t been crippled by grief. For those that have, it may be painful, but cathartic to watch. After watching, I’d recommend a Marx Bros movie or Arthur…

    • I’d recommend a 10 day break at the nearest sunny resort. I guess that’s why we need trigger warnings, it’s a tall order to expect us to wander darkly with these characters, but that’s not to say it’s unrewarding…I do think this is a good example of the ‘not quite dead’ genre, wish I’d thought of Carnival of Souls, and there will be hardly viewers who can handle the treacherous curves here…am coming back for Arthur, have a review of 10 as well, interested in films specifically ruined for tv viewing! But yes, a change of pace required…

    • This is a very good film, if you’re willing to go to that place. Not everyone is…

  2. This sounds agonizing and depressing. Is there a greater point to the movie, or Hope? If not, I have to wonder why this was even made then.

    I guess I don’t understand why dark movies even exist. Everyone, no matter how wealthy or insulated, has experienced loss and grief and pain and misery, so what do movies like this actually do? Do they make the audience feel better, that THEY aren’t experiencing this? I’m not being a smartass but I don’t genuinely don’t understand why anyone would create a movie like this nor why anyone would watch it. What’s your take on both or either of those?

    • Good question; here’s the answer. I’ll punch your melt in, Bunty. Some days are John Wick days, some days are the Muppets. Different films for different moods. Simples.

      • If one is in a good mood I suspect this will destroy that good mood. If one is in a bad mood, this would only feed it and make it worse. What kind of mood justifies this kind of movie?

        • That put your gas at a peep. Catharsis, you know, gets you thinking, maybe takes you away from things, makes you think anew, maybe an emotional story that changes your feelings about something, or raises issues and helps you deal with them/ Like John Wick, for example…

          • What does “that put your gas at a peep” mean? If that’s more cockney rhyming slang…..

            I’m glad you brought up Wick in conjunction with this. That was a very emotional and moving movie for me. Changed me deeply, on the inside 😉

            • It changed me, love it, primal, intellectually and emotionally appealing. In case of emergency; call John Wick.

              Gas, like gas heating pilot light, a turn of the dial raises it to a flame or takes it down to a minimum level, or peep.

              • Man, that is old schoolz. I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a stove lit like that. Probably the early 90’s?

                I’m just glad you weren’t somehow working in those abominable candy “peeps”….

                • We could talk antique stoves all night, Bunny; you’re meant to be captain of the booze cruise. A manifest? Ports of call?

                  • Ahhh, down to business then. A man after my own heart.

                    The manifest is our destiny. So yes, this cruise will be manifest destiny. Ports of call will be wherever we think we should be ruling. Personally, I’m looking forward to going to Quebec and making them all speak english. At some point I should probably ask everyone’s opinion. But tonight is not that night…

  3. Hmm. No. Rom without the com. Hard sell indeed.
    Also, if American Woman was criminally underseen and I’m one of those who didn’t see it does that mean I’m a criminal? Part of a criminal organization? What am I being accused of?

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