Given that the title card of She Came to Me is drenched in bubbling red liquid, one might think that the latest film from writer-director Rebecca Miller (in theaters Oct. 6) would be a merlot-soaked romantic dramedy. It turns out that the film is more red herring than red wine, using its cast of beloved, seasoned actors as little more than pawns to attract an audience to a movie wholly undeserving of their charm and talents. Even the great Anne Hathaway, no stranger to being the best part of a terrible movie, is incapable of saving this dreck from itself, standing idly by as the film spins hopelessly in circles. The result is one of the year’s biggest letdowns so far.
She Came to Me holds great promise in its blissfully strange plot: An opera composer’s (Peter Dinklage) therapist-turned-wife (Hathaway) encourages him to explore the city, only to find inspiration in the arms of a dingy tugboat operator (Marisa Tomei). But it quickly becomes clear that Miller isn’t quite sure what to do with her own intriguing idea. Characters and plotlines apathetically intersect, and their interactions’ varying consequences make the film feel tonally erratic throughout its runtime. Though Hathaway manages to microdose charisma to become the film’s sole compelling performance, even she is undercut at every turn by the bland screenplay.
When we first meet Dinklage’s Steven Lauddem, he’s hiding from his colleagues, trying to avoid being asked any questions at an industry event. That’s not completely surprising, given that his last opera triggered a breakdown so severe that he entered a deep depression. Now, he can’t seem to find any motivation to finish the score for his next show, which is due in just two weeks. His doting wife, Patricia, is doing her best to help him along, despite being preoccupied with her own private therapy practice and college-aged son from her first marriage, Julian (Evan Ellison). The best she can do is urge Steven to get outside and walk around to see what ideas the city streets might generate.
Miller seems to see She Came to Me as a quintessential New York movie, but the film does little to capture the energy of one of the greatest, most romantic cities in the world. When Steven happens upon Tomei’s tugboat captain, Katrina, their chance meeting fails to generate many sparks at all, despite Tomei’s commitment to her self-professed love-addicted character. Maybe that’s because Katrina’s days docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard feel wholly out of place for any viewer unfamiliar with the layout of New York’s outer boroughs, which I’d presume is most people. Their meeting feels too forced and random, entirely out of place with the classic New York story Miller’s film is trying to convey. Beyond the interiors of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone, a few exterior shots, and some B-roll footage, She Came to Me could be set just about anywhere in the metropolitan United States.
Nevertheless, Katrina and Steven enter into a brief affair, and she becomes his grease-stained muse. While this is happening, a parallel subplot about Julian and his girlfriend Tereza (Harlow Jane)—who happens to be the daughter of Patricia and Steven’s new housekeeper, Magdalena (Joanna Kulig)—is unfolding, complicating Steven’s life and the film itself. Miller is unable to juggle these intersecting plotlines, dropping one for far too long to focus on another until the viewer has practically forgotten who or what the film is actually about.
Cinematographer Sam Levy’s artfully composed shots blessedly give She Came to Me at least one interesting thing to chew on, with rich colors and intriguing scene compositions providing some brief moments of fascination. But even when it looks good, Miller’s confounding stylistic choices undermine the film’s most engaging qualities. The aspect ratio frequently changes, with the more “romantic” scenes being filmed in a tighter scope than the widescreen scenes of everyday dialogue. It’s a decision that never gels, and the frequent jumps between aspect ratios are jarring, leaving the viewer disconnected from the film just as they’re starting to buy what Miller is selling.
The cast doesn’t seem much more clued in either, continuously oscillating between the fringes of their characters’ personalities without so much as an indication as to why. It speaks to Hathaway’s talent that she can convincingly play a stereotypical caricature of a therapist one second, a neurotic clean-freak the next, and, finally, a psychosexual nun (yes, really), all in the span of 90 minutes. But it leaves us to ponder exactly why her disposition is so unpredictable, given that the screenplay does little to explain its characters’ compulsions and motivations beyond “this is what modern love is like in 2023!” Miller also fails to extract any humor from situations, despite all of them being inherently funny. She Came to Me is so devoid of jokes that even a light chuckle would seem cacophonous between all the silence.
Dinklage, Tomei, and Kulig are all strapped with dreadfully one-note characters, with Dinklage and Kulig feeling particularly out of place despite being central parts of the increasingly puzzling plot. Everyone besides Hathaway is fundamentally miscast, and even she—who knows how to keep the camera’s focus and draw a three-dimensional performance out of the flattest material—seems to be struggling against Miller’s stilted dialogue. What’s more, the film’s biggest set piece, Steven’s opera about a tugboat sailor who kills and eats men, is grating and humorless.
One gets the inkling that Miller was aiming for a film that could effectively comment on how humans alter the ways they dole out romantic affection as societal mores change. While there’s plenty to be said about love in contemporary times, Miller manages to make it all the way to the end credits without saying a single thing. Every opportunity for a thoughtful observation dissipates almost instantly, leaving a cloud of insipid pandering to the few who may enjoy a batty dramedy in its place instead.