Written and Directed by Rebecca Miller | 102 min | ▲▲△△△
Rebecca Miller has had a compelling, if shaggy career as a filmmaker. Prominently for those of us in this part of the world, in 2005 she wrote and directed The Ballad Of Jack and Rose, shot in PEI and starring her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis. Since then she directed the features The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Maggie’s Plan, along with a documentary about her father, playwright Arthur Miller.
Now she’s back with She Came To Me, another fascinating, flawed New York picture full of solid performances but seemingly unconcerned with anything like a unified tone. Miller is swinging wildly with this project — a few hits, a lot of it whiffs.
For the first act and a good portion of the second, the film feels like an anthology — that’s because the individual characters’ tenors are so different from each other. We’ve got Steven (Peter Dinklage), a deeply insecure, creatively blocked Brooklyn-based composer and his therapist wife, Pat (Anne Hathaway), who gets a lot of pleasure from housecleaning. The vibe here is twee, broad, and entirely romcom. Into this scenario walks Katrina (Marisa Tomei), a tugboat captain (I shit you not) addicted to romance. She seduces Steven, which kickstarts his creativity. He goes ahead and writes an opera about her.
So far, so goofy, with fun, engaged performances but precious few actual laughs. Alongside this love triangle — which might’ve worked as its own movie had Miller committed just to it — is a whole other narrative.
Pat’s 18-year-old son from her first marriage, Julian (Evan Ellison), is in love with 16-year-old Tereza (Harlow Jane). Tereza’s mother is an undocumented immigrant, Magdalena (Joanna Kulig from Cold War), who’s married to a civil war reenactor, Trey (Brian d’Arcy James). Magdalena is also doing housework for Pat, which is awkward for the kids, but what’s worse is when Trey finds out about Julian and Tereza’s relationship and immediately threatens to have Julian arrested for statutory rape.
This is an entirely different movie, with different stakes and no chance of laughs. Frustratingly, the two teens, Julian and Tereza, are the most mature characters on screen as they bash their heads against the outrageous behaviour of the adults in the room, but once again they’re in their own little reality. You’d be forgiven for forgetting Steven and Pat are even characters in the movie until, suddenly, we’re back with them and their marital/personal crises. You can feel the performers pushing in their roles and doing their best to make the narrative work. Hathaway is especially game as her character has a religious epiphany and decides to become a nun, but the tonal whiplash from scene to scene is just painful.
Even as I’m writing this it sounds like a disaster, and I was prepared to call it just that. And yet, somehow, in the final 20 or so minutes, the movie coalesces into something that actually works, paying off as a romcom with an unlikely wedding. It doesn’t solve what’s gone on before, not by a long shot, but it gives the characters a chance to advance in a moment that could even be called heartwarming — the winning performers do what they can to bring it all together.