To die? or marry? That is the question

Afterlife/limbo couples dramas are not a genre I'm comfortable with. But I may have something in common with the creator of this one, writer/director Tara Miele, because she seems so unsure of the genre's rules, and of where things are going. Okay, Adrienne (Sienna Miller) and Matteo (Diego Luna) have a bad car accident on the L.A. freeway. Somebody must be dead. But who? Both? One or the other? And what happens to their 6-month-old baby, so often referred to as Ellie? It takes an hour and a half to find out. Only then can we, or somebody, lay them, or somebody, to rest. But what enlightenment has arrived as a result of this woozy journey, I don't know.

I get it. If you've been in a traumatic car accident, you may be delirious. That makes sense. Of course when you're dying, or think you are, your mind races over your whole life. And if, let's repeat, you've been in a traumatic car accident, and somebody dies and somebody lives, the living one may be really confused about that, and think he or she is dead - or alive - when they're not. But, I mean, if they're dead, do they think anything?

Of course they do - if you're in purgatory. If you're Catholic, you believe in purgatory. This comes up, early, on, in Adrienne and Matteo's post-accident talk: are we in purgatory? Matteo is, I guess, Mexican, as Diego Luna is - he became famous a long time ago costarring in the great comedy Y Tu Mamá También, by Alfonso Cuarón (which I'd really rather have watched than this movie), and being Mexican, he's Catholic. But with this movie, we'd have to settle for limbo, unless purgatory can be endlessly (or for a little over 90 minutes, which can be the same thing) hashing over your relationship (this couple is no Paolo and Francesca - and that was Dante's hell, not his purgatory). This is what the dead, or partially dead, or in limbo - who knows? - Adrienne and Matteo do, after the accident. They go over and over their relationship. And if they're incapacitated, who'll raise Ellie? Adrienne's mom, Patty (Beth Grant)? But she and Matteo hated each other. (More plot details are given in Variety's review, but you'd better save that till you've seen the picture.)

You see, they were fighting when Matteo, who was driving, lost control. She was questioning why they were even together. How could she ask, he says, when they have a 6-month-old baby, and just entered escrow on a house? But they are not married, and this is a point that is frequently belabored. Why not? Does that make their baby a "bastard"? (Someone mentions this.) Why didn't Matteo propose to her? It seems he really meant to. Of course there were little hints of infidelity. Adrienne had just seen an old flame at a party. Matteo, a fine carpenter, had taken on a big job at the home of a beautiful woman he has a connection to.

These don't seem major sins, though. Much of Wander Darkly isn't dark; it's been complimented by some (such as Leslie Felperin in Hollywood Reporter) for its light touch and occasional humor. But the hard part is finding the point of it all. It seems Tara Miele is inspired by two things. She uses the action as a way to explore, as so many more conventional and kitsch examples of this genre do, the vagaries of time, of choice, the "what if's," the had moral choices, and the opportunities missed. A recurrent image is of the digital clock, when Adrienne looks at it and it says "88:88." Time gone. She is outside of time now. No revelations here, but this is always a subject that puzzles us.

The other thing Miele enjoys doing, which cinematically I too can enjoy, is exploit the opportunity this story provides of moving people smoothly and seamlessly back and forth and around in time and space in ways that puzzle the mind and charm the eye and seem like a dream, sometimes a very pretty one that gives pleasure to observe. It's fun to see the tricks seamlessly executed, to watch Adrianne walk from her living room right into the hospital corridor. The shifts are done so well they don't make you seasick. Miller and Luna make an attractive couple. There's a limbo wedding with beautiful lights and pleasant vows. There's a recurrent sequence in a dramatic inlet, in a picturesque little boat.

But these shifts don't seem particularly enlightening, and in the end this whole movie merely seems like a feverish medication on a plot-line that didn't quite jell.

Wander Darkly, 97 mins., which also stars Beth Grant, Aimee Carrero, Tory Kittles and Vanessa Bayer, dubuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, also showing at the Hamptons, AFI, Montclair, and SCAD Savannah. at the Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 2020. It releases by Lionsgate in theaters and on the internet Dec. 11, 2020.