Written by: Tara Miele
Starring: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles
Setting up an emotional punch towards the end of movies can allow for some wonderful catharsis and a reflection of everything in the story set up for the grand moment. When done so effectively, it certainly leaves a mark, but it depends wholly on everything preceding it. Wander Darkly tries to go for this metaphorical punch but does not land it due to scattershot plotting thus creating more confusion than resonance.
With a newborn child and a recently-purchased home, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) have some relationship issues to work through and begin to question if they still love each other. On a date night, they crash into another car, which finds Adrienne in what seems to be purgatory where she and Matteo experience critical moments of their relationship all over again.
Attempting the ambition of storytelling similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deserves its own recognition, as the boundless challenges that comes with this particular narrative structure walks the line between exultation and all-out bewilderment. Experiencing Wander Darkly confirms what can occur when this method gets used poorly to the point where it does not land the emotional hammer it sought. This, unfortunately, appears in the screenplay, as it struggles to keep anything remotely cohesive and just adds so many silly things into the story with no pay off towards the end.
After the car accident, it appears Adrienne has died as she stands and watches over her dead body trying to be saved by medical professionals. She looks at it with fear as to where her consciousness went and what occurred with Matteo. When she sees him again, they interact and then the relationship conversations occur where they dive into consequential moments. It serves as a fascinating exercise because they get to confront instances in their relationship where they felt unsure of what a particular word choice or action meant. With them seemingly in a form of purgatory, they walk through moments where it appears Matteo may have been flirting with another woman, but it then receives complete context. You might say if they had proper communication as a couple, this would not be an issue but I digress. These moments mark the high points of the film, but all of it gets brought down by the confusion of the overall framework.
The narrative jumps back and forth as to whether Adrienne and Matteo have both died or if it’s only one of them. The beginning would like for you to think Adrienne perished but it continually casts doubt in this belief. While it tries to leave a meaningful impact as it continues through the story, not defining this experience for the individuals created uncertainty and by the time the film landed at the heartbreaking conclusion it sought, I could only shrug because it did not fully correlate with what the rest of the story displayed. An odd situation because the sequences when they jump to the different moments in their relationship carry their own power. For the major faults hampering the film’s success, Wander Darkly takes a good look at this couple and how they shifted from different levels of enthusiasm to buckling down to the dream they set out to achieve and how it could all emotionally fall apart. The movie became far too interested in bending reality and what the characters experience that the true emotional weight of the story gets completely lost as a result. All of it comes in service of the ultimate rug-pull it wants to achieve and by the end, I found myself not caring for the result.
This certainly does not take away from the performances as they took the material and ran with it. Sienna Miller and Diego Luna capture the pain processed through this relationship with all of the unspoken harm caused. Luna provides his awe-inspiring presence throughout and becomes the perfect counterpart for one of Sienna Miller’s finest performances. As much as this story revolves around them as a couple, Miller’s Adrienne undoubtedly receives the arc of the story and gets more of the perspective. She carries those emotional scenes well to make them feel earned even when the screenplay does not fully help. These two became a dream pairing I never knew could work so well.
Moving at times, but ultimately a written and directorial misfire, Wander Darkly had plenty of promise but poor execution. It presents enough to latch onto and appreciate but proves to be too disjointed for its own good. This made the moment where it all comes together with an emotional zenith feel underwhelming.