WANDER DARKLY movie poster | ©2020 Lionsgate

WANDER DARKLY movie poster | ©2020 Lionsgate

Rating: R
Stars: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant, Vanessa Bayer, Brett Rice, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles, James Landry Hebert, Dan Gill, Ethan Cohn, Lamont Thompson
Writer: Tara Miele
Director: Tara Miele
Distributor: Lionsgate
Release Date: December 11, 2020

WANDER DARKLY is one of those movies where even to explain the premise may be to spoil it.

So, we’ll go with the set-up. Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are an unmarried couple living together in Los Angeles with their adorable baby daughter, Ellie. They’ve recently bought a house. Matteo and Adrienne’s mother, Patty (Beth Grant), can’t stand each other. The situation between Adrienne and Matteo is showing signs of strain as well. He doesn’t remember that it’s date night; she’s irate at his forgetfulness.

Then something major happens, the nature and meaning of which is teased thereafter. We are encouraged to guess at exactly what’s happening. Most of the rest of WANDER DARKLY Adrienne and Matteo’s memories, hopes, and fears of their shared lives, and for who they are as human beings.

This actually could describe any number of relationship dramas. Writer/director Tara Miele makes WANDER DARKLY distinctive both by giving it a dreamy visual beauty, and by being specific in incidents and ideas. Los Angeles is shown in all its urban variety, with a Mexican folk festival and an overpass of the 10 Freeway providing highlights. There are also several wonderful, borderline magical sequences near and in the ocean.

However, WANDER DARKLY has what might be considered a flaw, shared by many other screen romances, namely that we don’t ever get too much notion of who Adrienne or Matteo are apart from their relation to one another. We know that Matteo is a craftsman who makes wooden furniture, and is afraid of becoming like his stepfather; we learn that Adrienne has earned her dream job. That’s about it.

With this framework, it’s hard to place the characters in context. Miele and the powerful, empathetic actors make us believe in Adrienne and Matteo. Their problems with one another are credible.

But Adrienne in particular isn’t as sympathetic as it seems she’s meant to be. There are several instances of her strong-arming Matteo into big life choices, then getting mad at him for not being entirely on board with how she envisions things. This is perfectly plausible, but it also keeps us from being fully invested in how this all plays out.

Miller gives us a full range of anguish, bewilderment, fury, and tremulous hope, while Luna is soulful and humorous. In smaller roles, Grant and Brett Rice score as Adrienne’s parents, and Aimee Carrero is good as a flirtatious old friend of the couple.

WANDER DARKLY is extremely well-acted and well-made, but its greatest asset may be that it defies categorization and comparison. It may not deeply touch every viewer, but it is still a largely original piece, and that is cause for praise.

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