Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna), the couple at the center of Wander Darkly, are pretty much at wit’s end. The honeymoon phase has long since passed. They had a child together and bought a house (two massive life-changing events) within a very short period of time. There are seeds of mistrust, doubt, and jealousy that push through the cracks of the shiny veneers of their lives; they’ve stopped effectively communicating a long time ago. An attempt to go on a date ends in yet another big fight before a car crash changes everything.
DIRECTOR: Tara Miele
In the aftermath of a traumatic accident, a couple (and new parents) on the rocks take an in-depth look at the highs and lows of their own relationship to get a grasp on reality.
It’s at this crossroads—the before and after, life and death, reality and something akin to a dream—that Wander Darkly flourishes, albeit not without a few stumbles along the way as it delves into just how deep trauma can affect us. It’s an insightful and often emotional retrospective on relationships with touches of the trippiness and dreamlike qualities of It’s a Wonderful Life and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And while parts of the script borders on being too on-the-nose, Miller and Luna’s nuanced performances save it from feeling like a total cliché.
Memory can often be a fickle thing. It’s a lifeline for sure, but it can also betray us or shelter us. It can reveal the best and the worst of us, sometimes shaping events in very different ways. (When one person recalls cowardice, another changes the perspective to showcase bravery, a sign that time and bitterness can still shape something in vastly different ways.) “I’ve told this story so many times it’s almost a fantasy,” one character notes about a cherished memory.
In the aftermath of that car accident, Adrienne isn’t exactly sure what’s real. She sees her own body being wheeled off to the morgue, the door slammed shut without a second thought, her own funeral, and a future in which Matteo isn’t involved with raising their now-teenage daughter—although why he’s out of the picture is less than clear. In the next moment, she wakes up in bed. Despite assurances from Matteo, Adrienne can’t shake off the feeling that she’s actually dead.
At times, Wander Darkly approaches it with the subtlety of a brick being thrown through a window: She watches a zombie movie on TV and dramatically declares that she feels very connected to them and notes how she feels hollow inside; during a Día De Los Muertos celebration, she’s drawn to a figure that looks like death itself.
To help her work through her own trauma, Matteo suggests they retrace the steps of their relationship, one that wasn’t always as tumultuous as it now seems. It’s a form of narrative therapy (something a doctor introduced to them after the birth of their daughter) that allows them to process what happened by talking through it—and in Adrienne’s case, determine what’s real.
In some of those quieter moments, writer-director Tara Miele’s script allows Miller and Luna to push one another with the kind of ease and tension you get only when you’ve known one another for years; a joke can turn into a jab with enough inclination to a word or two.
As we’re introduced to their first meeting all the way up to the circumstances that colored their emotions right before the fatal (or near-fatal) crash, Wander Darkly, again and again, highlights a very simple point: Adrienne and Matteo might not be all that special in the grand scope of the universe, but to them, their own love story is. Their problems are all too familiar, the kind that we might encounter in our own relationships. Adrienne’s cynicism and Matteo’s reluctance circle one another, a self-fulfilling prophecy about to come to light if the right amount of pressure is applied.
Between Adrienne’s mother’s not-so-subtle digs at Matteo (and Adrienne’s half-hearted attempts to defend him) and one of Matteo’s friends (Aimee Carrero) seemingly trying to drive a wedge between them, there’s more than enough to test those waters. While it might not magically solve them, communicating would at least allow them to see the root of it—something they won’t be able to until it’s too late.
And that’s the great tragedy at the center of their lives. They’re able to look at their relationship see how they lived—and even interact with those memories—but despite all of the revelations revealed along the way, they cannot change what happened. They can only live with those regrets and, eventually, learn from them.
Wander Darkly will be available to watch digitally on Dec. 11.