New baby woes are weighing down the couple at the center of Tara Miele’s film Wander Darkly, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. But a date’s a date, and the two begrudgingly get dressed to go out. Things are off between them; their conversation sounds tense. Adrienne (Sienna Miller) goes off to talk to an old friend — possibly a former love interest — while Matteo (Diego Luna) looks on jealously. Is the movie starting at the end of a relationship? Possibly, but then there’s that favorite dramatic twist in the movies: a terrible car accident. Suddenly, our expectations of where Wander Darkly was going are torn apart, and we’re left to guess where this puzzling film is headed next.
When Adrienne wakes up, she sees herself on the gurney and somber-faced doctors telling her sobbing parents the dreadful news. She watches as her body is placed in the morgue, and seconds later, steps into her own funeral. Unlike when Tom Sawyer interrupted his own funeral, there’s no way for her to get in touch with the living world. The sequence is a mind-bending whirl, creatively sewn together by editors Tamara Meem and Alex O’Flinn. It gives the audience a sense of the dizzying frenzy Adrienne experiences when figuring out she’s dead. Or, is she? When the twirling of different scenes slows down, her partner Matteo sees her and talks to her. It seems like he’s the only one who can, confusing Adrienne even more. To help get her back to speed, Matteo suggests they revisit memories of their relationship to retrace their steps
Wander Darkly features moving performances from both Miller and Luna. They run through bubbly feelings of new love to the more draining and exhausting low points — fights, illness, and of course, death. Miller’s character is confused by her scrambled memories and thoughts, and so is the audience, like a mix of Ghost and Fifty First Dates. Luna’s soulful Matteo is as much our guide as he is hers. He is a furniture designer and a struggling but caring partner. As the pair go back through their relationship, cracks start to appear in the way they talk to each other and the way they hold onto one another. But in this weird in-between place of life and death, there’s some glimmer of hope that the relationship can be salvaged, and no one works harder at that than Matteo. So yes, it’s a bit of a must-see for heart-eyed Luna fans.
The movie sincerely tries to incorporate Matteo’s Mexican heritage into the film’s plot. The couple travels to Mexico, where they enjoy an unforgettable romantic getaway. During a different romantic night, a pillow thrown out of the way in a moment of passion and accidentally knocks over a candle. The flame latches on to a curtain and looks like it might recreating the barn-burning ending scene of Like Water for Chocolate. Thankfully, it’s a heroic moment for Matteo instead, who leaps into action with a fire hydrant and puts out the fire — without stopping to put on any clothes. However, there is scene at a Day of the Dead ceremony that would feel clichéd were it not for the film’s life or death premise. At one point, Adrienne is quite literally chased by the specter of death as she loses Matteo in the crowd and looks around frightened at the painted faces around her.
It’s a bit of a must-see for heart-eyed Luna fans.
However, the film’s weakest point is that yes, of course, the Latino in the relationship had an affair. To make matters worse, it’s with another Latina whose dad builds hotels and has the resources to employ Matteo and take him away from his family, bringing out all kinds of insecurity in Adrienne. The overly flirty character played by Aimee Carrero feels like a constant specter in Adrienne’s subconscious, as if the anger she felt seeing the two of them together permanently etched itself into her memory. While Matteo feels like a fully-fledged character, the shadow of La Otra is merely a plot device and a shallow one at that.
Despite these bumps, Wander Darkly remains a potent romantic drama with some thrilling elements. As its narrative pieces itself together, it keeps the audience guessing and switching from laughing to crying and back again. Luna and Miller’s chemistry is on full blast even if when we first meet their characters, their connection had fizzled out. As Wander Darkly travels back to rosier times, it’s a bittersweet reminder that even when love ends it takes a lot of good memories and feelings to be moved so deeply.
Wander Darkly premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.