AFI FEST 2020 REVIEW! For readers of Film Threat, 2019 was the year of the clown. We must have reviewed a dozen films about killer clowns. This year, the recurring theme is death. Not being dead, but movies about dying—the slow journey one suffers on the way to their last breath. The third film in just two weeks to deal with this subject is Tara Miele’s haunting Wander Darkly.
Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are a traditional American couple who recently experienced the birth of their daughter and purchased a house to start a family. While these milestones should make any couple happy, Adrian and Matteo are far from it. Rather than see a marriage counselor, the two decide it would be cheaper and less painful to go on a weekly date night. Bad choice.
Needless to say, the night only shines a bright light on their problems as an argument and jealousy arise when Adrienne sees her handsome business associate on their date. On the car ride home, the two are about to get real about the pathetic state of their relationship and the other’s unfulfilled wants and needs, then all of a sudden… a car crash.
In an out-of-body experience, Adrienne awakens on a slab and then quickly flashes to her funeral. Now, in this ghostly-state, Adrienne is inexplicably carried from scene to scene of their relationship with a brief jump to the future as her daughter, Abbie, grows up with Adrienne’s parents. Like always, Matteo is nowhere to be seen as he again abandons his paternal duties.
“Matteo appears to know what to do and insists on guiding Adrienne through their relationship’s crucial moments.”
Now a lost apparition, Adrienne wanders the streets of Los Angeles. Out of nowhere, she runs into Matteo in some hybrid ghost/corporal existence. They can see one another, and Matteo can somehow still interact with the real world, but all within Adrienne’s dreamlike state. Like most afterlife stories, Adrienne has to figure out some lesson or accomplish some task to move on. Matteo appears to know what to do and insists on guiding Adrienne through their relationship’s crucial moments, starting with the good ones.
Much of the movie is just figuring out why Adrienne is wandering through her memories and where it will ultimately end. The journey is a long one (for 97 minutes), but the payoff works and is touching.
There are two crucial reasons to see Wander Darkly. The first is Sienna Miller’s performance. Miller goes through the emotional spectrum of a woman falling in love, starting a family, and forced to face why the relationship was in a dismal state. Her shifts in emotion are sharp and fast, just like the film’s cuts from scene-to-scene are strangely quick and reflective. I wouldn’t say she’ll get an Oscar-nod, but you’re with her all the way trying to figure out the film’s mystery.
The second point in the film’s favor is that the cinematography is gorgeous. It’s set in L.A., with the city playing a role in the overall visual design. Every shot is artfully composed using natural light as much as possible. The images are grounded and real, but the camera is in constant motion giving the illusion of a dreamlike state. I love this blending of the real and the surreal—it looks real, yet it isn’t… maybe.
Wander Darkly is a hard watch that is worth it, as the movie will pull a few tears from your eyes at the end.
Wander Darkly screened at the 2020 AFI Fest.
"…Miller goes through the emotional spectrum..."