December 11, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Tara Miele
Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area and Mexico, the drama “Wander Darkly” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos, African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and working class.
Culture Clash: A man and a woman who have a newborn baby are involved in a car accident that alters the way that they look at their lives.
Culture Audience: “Wander Darkly” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in mind-bending “flashback” movies that put a lot of emphasis on “what if” aspects of life and the ongoing debate over personal choice versus destiny.
“Wander Darkly” puts a very clever and absorbing spin on a concept that has often been used in movies: Someone gets injured in an accident and tries to right some wrongs, or “do over” their life. Written and directed by Tara Miele, “Wander Darkly” isn’t a horror movie, but it’s a psychological drama that goes deep and keeps viewers guessing over who died and who survived a terrible car accident that is the catalyst for almost everything that happens.
The Los Angeles couple at the center of the story are Adrienne (played by Sienna Miller) and Matteo (played by Diego Luna), who have recently become parents to a baby daughter named Ellie. Adrienne and Matteo are both in their late 30s or early 40s. And they both give the impression that they feel like life is passing them by too quickly and they don’t have much to show for it except for their child.
Matteo is as an independent contractor who does construction jobs and also works as a handyman. Adrienne is a visual artist who does art installations, but now that she’s become a mother, taking care of the baby is taking up a lot of her time too. Matteo and Adrienne live in a co-op building, where most of the residents are younger than they are.
And, as Adrienne says at one point in the movie, the couple is “broke.” They’re not so financially desperate that they’re on the verge of being homeless. But money is tight, and their household income is barely enough to pay their expenses.
There are other signs that Adrienne and Matteo’s relationship is fraying, or at least hit a rough patch. While driving to a friend’s house party for a “date night” (Matteo does the driving), tensions are running high because Adrienne had to remind Matteo that this was their date night. She’s irritated that he had forgotten, and she reminds him it was his idea to have date nights because their date nights “are cheaper than therapy.” And there are a lot of issues in this relationship that looks like it could need therapy.
Adrienne is also annoyed with Matteo because she thinks he’s being too laid-back about their financial situation. A lot of the passion has gone from their relationship, which has always been plagued by jealousy, mostly coming from Adrienne. She thinks Matteo has cheated on her with a younger, attractive female friend of Matteo’s named Shea (played by Aimee Carrero), but Matteo insists that he and Shea (who is very affectionate with Matteo) have a strictly platonic relationship.
There’s also a lot of underlying tension over Adrienne and Matteo’s marital status. When people assume that Adrienne and Mateo are married, Adrienne quickly corrects them and tells that she and Matteo are not husband and wife. Meanwhile, Matteo doesn’t seem to mind if people assume that he and Adrienne are married. In the beginning of the movie, it’s somewhat unclear if Adrienne really wants to get married or not. But it’s later revealed in the story what the couple’s true feelings are about being married to each other.
When Adrienne and Matteo get to the party, more issues come out under their forced smiles and somewhat sarcastic comments. At the party, Matteo mentions to two friends who are couple—Gary (played by Lamont Thompson) and Kevin (played by Ethan Cohn)—that he and Adrienne’s domineering mother Patty (played by Beth Grant) don’t really like each other. Matteo says about his relationship with Patty: “When she comes to the house, we play this game like we can’t see or hear each other.”
And it’s also implied several times throughout the story that Patty is a religious conservative, while Adrienne and Matteo are not. There are also veiled inferences to Patty being a racist who doesn’t approve of her daughter dating a Latino man who’s originally from Mexico. No one ever really comes right out and says that there’s this racial and cultural tension in the family, but it’s clear that there is, based on the strained way that Patty and Matteo interact with each other. Adrienne’s father Steve (played by Brett Rice) meekly goes along with whatever Patty wants.
Adrienne isn’t the only one who has jealousy issues. There’s a good-looking man at the party named Liam (played by Tory Kittles), who seems thrilled to see Adrienne there. The feeling is very mutual and they greet each other with warm smiles and hugs. Matteo has noticed that Liam is at the party too, and Matteo doesn’t seem happy about it at all.
Unlike Matteo’s relationship with Shea, there’s no ambiguity over Adrienne’s relationship with Liam, based on Matteo’s reaction. Although it’s not said out loud, Liam and Adrienne were once romantically involved with each other, but are now just friends. It’s never made clear how long Liam and Adrienne were together, but Matteo feels uncomfortable with Liam and Adrienne still having contact with each other.
And that jealousy comes out during an argument that Matteo and Adrienne have in the car on the way home. Matteo brings up the subject of Liam at the party and Matteo’s perception that Adrienne was being too affectionate with Liam. Adrienne tells Matteo that they’re allowed to have friends. And she also says, in an exasperated voice, “Why are we even together anymore?”
And then, the car accident happens when an out-of-control car blindsides Matteo and Adrienne from the front of their car. Adrienne wakes up injured in a hospital. And it’s here where the movie takes many twists and turns that can’t be described in this review without giving away too much information.
However, it’s enough to say that viewers will be wondering who survived the car crash: Was it Adrienne, Matteo, both or neither? There are several scenes where Adrienne and Matteo reflect on their lives and the choices they made. And there’s a time-warp aspect to the story, since Ellie is seen as a 4-year-old (played by Olivia Popp) and as a 15-year-old (played by Inde Navarrette), with the teenage Ellie reading some of her mother’s journals.
Although Matteo is one-half of this couple, this story really belongs to Adrienne, who goes through the more harrowing emotional journey in the movie. “Wander Darkly” uses a lot of fade-out camera and editing techniques to take people back and forth into scenes that could be flashbacks or could be a chance for Adrienne and Matteo to “do over” something in their past.
Luna and Miller are both very good in their roles as this couple wondering where things went wrong in their relationship and trying to recapture some of the magic they had in the beginning of their romance. Miller is fascinating to watch in this psychological mystery, because she goes through every conceivable emotion in this movie without ever veering into campy territory or giving away too much in advance of where this story is headed.
There are times where viewers will think that Adrienne and Matteo might be dead and in purgatory. And there are times when people will think Adrienne and Matteo are alive but just might be delusional. In one memorable scene, Adrienne is depressed after the accident, and she’s moping on the couch while watching TV. George Romero’s 1968 classic zombie movie “Night of the Living Dead” is playing on the TV screen.
Matteo goes in the room and expresses surprise that Adrienne is watching this horror movie because he says that she hates zombies. But Adrienne replies, “They’re my people now. I feel connected to them, actually. They’re very misunderstood.” Later, Adrienne says, “I feel soulless, hollowed-out.”
Thanks to notable performances from the cast members and impressive writing and directing from Miele, “Wander Darkly” is anything but soulless and hollow. People who have short attention spans probably won’t enjoy this movie as much as people who like to try to solve mysteries while watching a complicated relationship. However tragic the car accident was (both Adrienne and Matteo suffered serious injuries from the car crash), “Wander Darkly” offers an impactful message of resilience in the wake of tragedy.
Lionsgate released “Wander Darkly” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 11, 2020. The movie’s released date on Blu-ray and DVD is February 9, 2021.