Say what you will about the somewhat hokey supernatural love story that they’re trying to put over in “Wander Darkly.” But Sienna Miller and Diego Luna put on a clinic in screen chemistry in this melancholy puzzle-picture romance.
Writer-director Tara Miele’s debut feature may be unduly concerned with the “puzzle” part. But her leads are stars who light it up and kind of break your heart, and if Luna and Miller aren’t on your short list of “my favorites,” here’s a movie to remind you of your poor choices.
They’re fighting when we meet them, or at least not getting along all that well. Adrienne and Matteo have a new baby and a new house and “We’re broke.”
And SOMEbody just forgot “date night.”
The evening, meeting friends for dinner, is tense and terse — something about the way Adrienne spits out “We’re not married” when people make that mistake. And right in the middle of the “Why are we even together any more?” fight on the way home, they crash.
She wakes up bloodied, confused, chasing a gurney down the hall in the hospital, watching a body slid into a freezer in the morgue.
It is drugs? Is she dead? Or is she merely “concussed,” Matteo’s answer? Because Adrienne is convinced “I died.”
Sounds are muffled and Miele’s camera is canted, flipped, as woozy as Adrienne’s state of mind as she steps out of a corridor and into another location, then another, fades out and wakes up on her own sofa, overhears her mother (Beth Grant, terrific as usual) talking about “taking the baby home with us.”
Adrienne sees Matteo eulogizing her at her funeral, jumps ahead and sees her daughter growing up with her parents.
“I’m dead…What is this, Purgatory?” Only Matteo is there to comfort her, correct her — “You’re confused.”
He resolves to “help you remember…I’m gonna tell you our story, OK?”
“Wander Darkly” sees them doing exactly that, stepping into and out of scenes from their not-a-marriage — first date, first kiss, first jealousy. The conceit here is that they’re not just observing their history in the manner of a hundred similar romances. They’re in the situation, as they were then, but commenting on it from within to reinforce his reassurances, or her doubts.
“Hey, I love you.” “No, I was the one who said it first.”
Adrienne gets over her anger at a possible “other woman” — “Even me dying isn’t enough to make you step up.” The “I’m a good ghost” cracks fade away. And as they do, you might feel the picture slipping away, the filmmaker losing the thread or at least getting away from what works — the give and take between her stars.
There are tips and too-obvious clues about what’s really going on here. And Miele drags out the finale, too, trying to bring on the tears.
But Miller and Luna give this romance a history, weariness and testy spark that keeps “Wander Darkly” going even after we’ve guessed what its destination is.
MPA Rating: R (Language|Some Sexual Content/Nudity)
Cast: Sienna Miller, Diego Luna, Beth Grant
Credits: Written and directed by Tara Miele. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:37