Some movies are so surreal that they can feel like living through a dream. And then there are others, like the new Wander Darkly, that actively present their stories through the dreamlike state of their characters to try to present larger truths about their lives.
Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are a couple living in Los Angeles with a newborn baby. Before we even get to know much at all, they get into a car accident, leaving both of them seriously injured. The next thing Adrienne knows, she’s in the hospital, seemingly having an out-of-body experience.
Not knowing if she’s alive or dead, Adrienne goes on a film-long exploration of her life with Matteo, reliving various moments of their relationship, whether they were good or bad. In so doing, the film dives deep into the psyches of both people, laying bare each of their weaknesses while trying to understand what makes each of them tick.
Written and directed by Tara Miele, the film takes the unusual approach of telling a couple’s story through flashbacks, but as if the couple was remembering their past lives while they were living them. It’s a confusing method at first, but it gets easier to understand as film goes along.
As if that wasn’t enough, the film recreates moments from their relationship through the prism of their memories, which may or may not be accurate. Adrienne and Matteo tend to remember the circumstances of key events differently, so the viewer can never be sure what to trust. Add on the idea that Adrienne may have some mental health issues and Matteo may by somewhat untrustworthy, and it’s a lot to process.
Miele keeps all of this flowing thanks some nice visual trickery that makes it seem as if one scene is blending into the next, no matter how disparate the setting. It really does feel as if you’re in a dream with Adrienne, taking a ride on her wave of emotions. Befitting the circumstances of how she entered her reverie, the film does not idealize her relationship with Matteo, ironically making the film more about realism than romance.
Both Miller and Luna have had understated movie careers. While neither has hurt for work over the past 20 years and both have made appearances in some big movies, neither has become an A-list star. Their performances here are typical of their previous roles – solid and believable, although the way the story is told, neither transcends the material itself.
Wander Darkly is a meditation on relationships, parenthood, and life itself. While mostly a downer of a film, it gets points for not trying to gloss over the faults of its characters, delivering a story that earns its emotions thanks to its authenticity.
Wander Darkly opens in select theaters and on premium on-demand on December 11.