Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are a couple whose relationship is disintegrating. Even with the inclusion of a new baby girl Ellie, mistrust pervades their relationship. Like many soon-to-be split-up couples, the baby is just a band-aid for their real troubles. Worse yet, tragedy strikes when Adrienne and Matteo are involved in a violent car crash involving one of their deaths. The next 97 minutes causes the characters to question reality and mortality as they revisit their past memories. Tara Miele’s “Wander Darkly” is a soul-tugging melodrama of lost loves and the never-promised tomorrows yet to come.
Indeed, Adrienne’s yet to come fate hangs over an existential threshold. Especially because after the crash she experiences an out-of-body experience. Crossing between timelines, she observes Matteo wood working; in another, she sees her daughter Ellie (Inde Navarrette) as a teenager. Is Adrienne dead? Matteo doesn’t believe so. And he’s going to prove it to her.
To these ends, he devises a plan to take Adrienne through their memories together—from the moment they met to their presumed crash. In these reminisces, “Wander Darkly” sometimes inhabits a YA melodramatic vibe—each emotional swing swells to a critical mass—mixed with an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” dynamic. Like Joel (Jim Carrey) and Clementine (Kate Winslet), Adrienne and Matteo are a couple who at once are incompatible yet perfectly fashioned for each other. While Adrienne is ambitious with a caustic wit, Matteo often lives with low-key ambitions and self-deprecating humor. In short, the former confronts the elephant in the room while the other jokes about the peanuts.
In their flashbacks, like “Eternal Sunshine,” Miele outlines several instances of shared affections by the couple, like their motorboat adventure in Mexico over a sea of glistening gulf waters. However, we also learn of the poison coursing through their bonds. Each holds onto their respective jealousies and suspicions of indiscretions. And while Matteo has commitment issues, Adrienne’s mother Patty (Beth Grant) pretty much despises him.
Nevertheless, even after exploring her memories, Adrienne still questions whether she’s alive or suffering a psychotic break. Mostly, because a hollowness exists inside of her. It’s so ingrained in her soul that she can’t tell whether her feeling of emptiness proves her death or confirms the hopelessness of her relationship with Matteo. Her confusion challenges the audience as well since so few clues are given in regards to her existence. So while the existential gymnastics Miele makes initially intrigues, later these same components weave together unyieldingly, which is made more opaque by the intimation of demons tracking Adrienne. First by banging on her window, then by finding her at a Día de Muerto parade. Between jealousies; shifting timelines; and demons, the romantic narrative nearly unspools permanently.
Consequently, the crafts provides cohesion to the narrative’s confusion. While “Wander Darkly” bears similar machinations to “Eternal Sunshine,” especially with regards to Tamara Meem and Alex O’Flinn’s editing, which eases memories together through seamless transitions, Miele does away with the cold muted environment of Gondry’s classic. Instead, she relies on vibrant lighting and summer warmth in much of the film. Moreover, Alex Weston’s string and piano laden score retreats with the events like sand reversing in an hourglass.
Chemistry wise, Miller and Luna work wonders together. Miller’s intense dynamic range: from impassioned to ebullient and afraid, plays well off of Luna’s boyish charm. They imbue these characters with troves of insecurities and mountains of love. And while “Wander Darkly” logically strays into a muddled array of melodramatic events and endless songs of pining, the emotional weight of the final act lands on the heart and sinks inside. And Adrienne and Matteo’s affection for each other, and their cyclical reaffirmation of their love, leads one to see their relationship as the unavoidable will of fate. Indeed, it’s the theme of destiny that causes the biggest heartaches. Miele’s “Wander Darkly” will emotionally devastate anyone who believes in soulmates, leaving them in a gulf of tears. In short, “Wander Darkly” is a beautiful romance. [B+]