Watching Wander Darkly is an exercise in frustration. I can't remember the last movie that felt so impenetrable. Writer/director Tara Miele obviously thinks she's delivering a grand statement about life, love, and death, The ponderously self-serious tone makes that clear. At the same time, she does a poor job establishing (and then following) the rules of her fantasy scenario, and that ends up guaranteeing that this confused, muddled story leaves the viewer utterly baffled.
Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) are a long-term couple awakening to the realization that their relationship is no longer working. It seems that the only reason they're still together is their infant daughter. While arguing in the car one night, the couple gets into a head-on collision, killing Adrienne. Rather than going to Heaven, she sticks around Earth, where, for some unknown reason, Matteo can still see her. He takes her on a tour of memorable moments from their life together, helping her to see certain key events in a new light.
How is he able to do this? Your guess is as good as mine. Wander Darkly never explains Matteo's ability to go with Adrienne as she bops around in time. That begs so many additional questions. If she's dead, how can he still communicate with her? Why does she keep waking up in beds when, as a presumed ghost, she doesn't need sleep? At one point, they make love, so isn't that necrophilia? When they have a conversation about Adrienne's death in front of other people, why do those people not react? How can Adrienne flash-forward to see their daughter as a teenager? I could go on and on. Then there's the story's final revelation, a "gotcha" that undermines everything the picture has spent ninety minutes attempting to convince us matters. Coming out of nowhere, it's especially enraging.
Movies with an element of fantasy don't have to be realistic, but they do have an obligation to establish their own rules. We need to know what's possible, how it's possible, and what the overall structure is. Wander Darkly skips that, asking us instead to swallow whatever random idea it wants to throw at us. Without a sense of its own internal logic, caring about what Adrienne and Matteo learn about each other is extremely challenging. In fact, the film's depiction of their personal dramas begins to come off as pretentious. If it can't be bothered to set some basic, understandable ground rules, why should we bother to invest ourselves emotionally?
The sad part is that Sienna Miller is quite good here, as is Diego Luna. The actors work hard to bring humanity to every tortured scene between the characters. It isn't their fault that the plot is fundamentally irrational. Backing them up in a supporting role is former Saturday Night Live cast member Vanessa Bayer, as Adrienne's best friend. Her presence is odd, considering she has almost no dialogue and zero opportunities to be funny. Just one more mystery surrounding this bizarre movie.
Wander Darkly ends with what it clearly believes is a bit of profundity. Maybe it would be profound within a less convoluted format – one that actually respected the audience enough to provide a framework for it. To give credit where it's due, the film lives up to its title, wandering darkly from one maddeningly incoherent scene to the next.
I breathed a sigh of relief when it was finally over.
out of four
Wander Darkly is rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.