Filmmakers often draw upon personal experiences for inspiration. And it was devastating car crash that was the catalyst for writer/director Tara Miele’s surreal time-bending romantic thriller “Wander Darkly,” which was released by Lionsgate on December 11. Sienna Miller and Diego Luna star as Adrienne and Matteo, a young unmarried couple with a baby and a new house who are in a horrible car crash on their way home from an emotionally taxing dinner. Adrienne actually believes she has died in the crash as drifts in and out of time in flashbacks, flashforwards, nightmares and dreams. Guiding her through this surreal experience is Matteo, who keeps popping up in her strange purgatory.
Miele was a Grand Jury Prize nominee this year at Sundance and both stars have received strong notices, especially Miller. The L.A. Times Gary Goldstein stated that Miller “turns in a captivating, deeply layered performance as a dazed and tortured soul struggling to survive perhaps the unsurvivable.
During a zoom conversation week with Entertainment Weekly’s David Canfield, Miller and producer Shivani Rawat, Miele noted that both she and her husband survived a bad car crash about seven years ago. And just as Adrienne, initially she thought she was dead. “Thankfully that passed,” she said. “It was just a blip, but it felt so true as a blip. Then months later, or weeks later, we were at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and everybody was fighting over the turkey and the kids were crying. I was just really overwhelmed with gratitude for the fact that we were still there and living these delicate little lives.”
Not only did she want to explore the fragility of life, but also grief. “There was an interesting parallel between the state of the concussion, where I couldn’t trust my own perception of things, and then also the cycles of grief that we go through and how our brains’ protect us. “
Rawat was sent the script in 2018. “I was just intrigued by it and then that it’s based on a personal story,” she noted. “We read so many scripts every day, but there’s that one script that touches you and you want to read again and that was the case with me and ‘Wander Darkly.’ Then Sienna said yes to the project. For me, it’s all about supporting female empowerment and female filmmakers.”
Miller recalled just falling to pieces when she read the script. “My mother was staying with me and she read it and also sobbed. It was just one of those moments when you read something and the emotional reaction was so visceral, it was so true. It was like unlike anything I’d read and surreal and poignant and internal and confusing and then shocking”
Though it was like a “dreamscape” to read, Miller was scared when production began. “What you can internalize on a page is really different to performing it,” she explained. “Especially the moments where you were in the present and then you’re in the past within the same scene. I found that really difficult. Diego did too.”
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Miele was there to reassure them. “Tara had such a vision, and it was so clear what she as doing,” said Miller. The filmmaker was ambitious. Save for a few pickups, the indie film was shot in about 24 days “We moved a lot,” said Miele. “We were on rooftops, at the ocean and then doing car crashes. Here’s the truth. I think, as a writer, you make problems, and as a director, you solve problems.”
Because there were many unique aspects about the script, she added, “it was hard to anticipate what people wouldn’t understand. It was a real process of so many conversations through prep, so much collaboration between the departments. I went through and created a timeline of events just like in a real order to make sure we didn’t have some paradox that I hadn’t noticed when I was in this dreamscape of writing.”
Miele believed that Miller and Luna came to the film with “personal vulnerabilities. Everybody felt quite exposed in doing the work. In some ways that’s the only way it could have happened. It’s like we were sort of facing the unknown. I think that’s where creative things happened”.
Miller noted that she and Luna were already fiends so there a “shorthand” between them. “There was a kind of familiarity that I think really helped, but we tried to get specific in terms of the language that a couple shares in a relationship the little things that they do that are specific to them.” Despite the film’s inherent sadness, Miller actually found “Wander Darkly” was “so life-affirming. It’s grief but it’s so human, it feels so authentic. I feel love for it.”
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