The ending is quite charming—and so is the beginning—in She Came to Me, Rebecca Miller’s (Personal Velocity, Maggies Plan) offbeat romance about an aging opera composer attempting to make a comeback from a years-long writer’s block. It’s the middle section and subplots that are uneven, a case for Miller taking a chance on an idiosyncratic look at modern love, relationships, and longings that would have served nicely had she stayed more focused on the character depths of her characters instead of wondering over to various subplots that are left unfunny and underwritten in their comedic context. For those looking for a quirky indie romance, She Came to Me has some genuine moments, but much of the film falls flat, getting off course, and frankly, Miller gets off track from the main narrative thread as she makes the material overly zany when it doesn’t mean to be.
Very much in the vein of a New York Woody Allen film where the middle-aged characters are artistic, eccentric, and hold deep longings as they deliver offbeat dialogue. Peter Dinklage once again delivers an engaging performance as Steven, a celebrated opera composer who hasn’t written anything in about five years. With a deadline approaching in his contract, Steven must come up with something, or he will lose his contract and status with the opera company that he works for.
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Steven is also unhappy with his wife Patricia (Anne Hathaway), a psychiatrist, because her patients make her feel uncomfortable as they confess that they fantasize about her being naked. She even lives on her own schedule, and she even declines Steven’s request once he asks to have sex off her routine. Patricia is also frustrated with Steven’s writer’s block; she pushes him out of the house and informs him that he better make a decision soon about his career. For her own stress mechanism, Patricia holds great joy in cleaning, and she wears a lab coat when she scrubs the house. She also yearns to be a nun.
If that isn’t enough to be eccentric, the narrative gets even more zany. Distressed and depressed, Steven ends up at a bar where he encounters Captain Katrina (Maria Tomei), who travels the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in a tugboat. She tells Steven she sails the ocean on her tugboat to resist her desires and passions for men, as she is a romantic who is addicted to affection and love. She ends up seducing Steven on her boat, and Steven ends up finding creative inspiration from this bizarre encounter.
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Steven ends up parting ways with Katrina and ends up writing her as a lead character for his latest opera, which ends up becoming a hit and is labeled as “female Sweeney Todd.” Now if that isn’t enough narrative that you would think could sustain a 90-minute movie, Miller tacks on another subplot involving Patricia’s 18-year-old son (and Steven’s stepson), Julian (Evan Ellison), who is in a relationship with a 16-year-old girl named Tereza (Harlow), the daughter of her immigrant mother, Magdalena (Joanna Kulig), who also happens to be Katrina and Steven’s housekeeper. Patricia even assists Katrina in cleaning the house if her patients cancel a session. Both women don’t realize that their children are dating, and it’s never quite clear why Julian and Tereza keep their relationship a secret. Both Julian and Tereza have a save the world mentality, as they have engineering plans on how to reduce the world’s carbon footprint with more effective technology.
Tereza’s stepfather, Trey (Brian D’Arcy James), is a condescending and judgmental jerk who brags about his skills as a court stenographer and claims he knows more about the legal system than most lawyers. He also has hobbies and attends Civil War reenactments, and it’s obvious he is a closeted racist as he disapproves of Tereza and Julian’s interracial relationship. Once he discovers some innocent intimate photos of the two, he decides to press charges against Steven for statutory rape, which causes Magdalena to second-guess her marriage to Trey as he reveals his true colors as the racist, self-righteous monster that he truly is. Patricia ends up losing control once she caves into her patients request of seeing naked, and she screams very loudly, and Steven begrudges the actress playing Katrina in his place as she doesn’t get the traits down of Katrina and even slips that she was a real person that she met. Once the play is shown, Katerina appears, and she is swept away by Steven’s talents and how she has become his muse.
The premise is very outrageous, overstuffed, and isn’t witty enough to capture the potential delight that the material hints at. While Dinklage and Tomei are sharp together, they could have used far more scenes, and the subplot involving the teens feels tacked on as Hathaway’s character feels lightly sketched. The end result is a disappointing Rebecca Miller movie. She has a superb cast and an engaging premise, but only if the execution and another rewrite were there.
She Came to Me is now playing in theaters.