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‘She Came to Me’ Review: Peter Dinklage, Anne Hathaway and Marisa Tomei Collide in a Romance With More Strain Than Spark



The light touch that made Rebecca Miller’s last film, Maggie’s Planso enjoyable is nowhere to be found in She Came to Me, a clunky multistrand romance with such a terminal case of whimsy that almost none of its characters or their relationships ring true. Get this: Peter Dinklage plays a creatively stalled avant-garde opera composer; Anne Hathaway is a controlling therapist who randomly ditches her chic wardrobe for a nun’s habit; Marisa Tomei is a tugboat captain prone to romantic obsessions; and Brian d’Arcy James is a court stenographer heavily into Civil War reenactments.

If you’re wondering how much quirk one movie can take, you’re not alone, raising the question of how it ever got cast, let alone made. Yet somehow, it did, even landing a tinkly score by Bryce Dessner of The National and an original Bruce Springsteen song for the end credits, appropriately titled “Addicted to Romance.”

She Came to Me

The Bottom Line

She needn’t have bothered.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special)
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d’Arcy James, Anne Hathaway, Harlow Jane, Evan A. Ellison
Director-screenwriter: Rebecca Miller

1 hour 42 minutes

Writer-director Miller threads the fanciful story with a vein of operatic magic, screwball comedy and a hint of the absurd, alongside more serious dramatic concerns stemming from a threat to the future of a teenage couple in love. But balance is entirely missing, making for a movie in which the tone is inconsistent, the elements all feel a little off and the ensemble never quite gels as a cohesive group of characters belonging in the same universe. It aims to be a celebration of New York City and its peculiar inhabitants, but any similarity to actual New Yorkers, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The nominal center of it all and the “me” of the title is Steven Laudemm (Dinklage), a celebrated composer who’s been wearing the permanently furrowed brow of deep, unproductive depression in the years since his last opera premiered. Marrying his glamorous therapist Patricia (Hathaway) doesn’t appear to have helped, even if she nudges him professionally any way she can, and reassures his collaborators that the first draft of an important new commission will be delivered in two weeks, as promised.

Steven is stepfather to Patricia’s 18-year-old son from a previous marriage, Justin (Evan A. Ellison), whose swoony romance with high school sweetheart Tereza (Harlow Jane), two years his junior, has progressed to their mutual decision to shed. their virginity. Tereza’s Polish immigrant mother Magdalena (Joanna Kulig) works as a housekeeper for Patricia, but neither parent is aware of their kids’ relationship. Nor is Tereza’s priggish father Trey (James), who lives for the “period rush” of brandishing a musket on his weekend historical jaunts.

When Patricia briskly ushers Steven out of their Brooklyn brownstone one morning to walk the dog, shake up his static routine and interact with some strangers, he ends up drinking whiskey in a bar at 11 a.m. There, he meets Captain Katrina (Tomei), who might as well face it, she’s addicted to love, to quote Robert Palmer. Or at least, to romance. Basically, she’s Popeye the Sailor Man reincarnated as a sensual earth mother, who’s so blue-collar that when Steven tells her what he does, she says, “A composter?” Accompanying him to the dock for a tour of her tugboat, Katrina slips off her coveralls to reveal a sexy bustier and promptly seduces him.

Among the key developments that follow, Katrina unwittingly becomes the muse to unblock Steven’s gifts and gets immortalized onstage; Patricia somehow goes from donating clothes and helping out at the local convent to receiving a religious calling; and Trey finds the before-and-after Polaroids that Tereza and Justin took as a record of their first time, which puts the older teen in legal hot water.

But in this movie’s bogus world, where there’s water, there’s also a tugboat with a cheery crew singing “Keep on the Sunny Side.” The conspiracy to rescue Justin and Tereza from Trey’s moralistic ire involves Steven, Magdalena and Katrina in an escape plan that plays like an antic caper. Ultimately, the teenage romance, and the mixture of hope and uncertainty with which they face the future together, is the story’s most conventional element but also its most involving. That’s because Tereza and Justin are the only characters you can actually buy having some sort of connection.

All the actors deserve better. Dinklage does what he can with the contemplative, troubled artist, although in terms of showing a creative type immersed in the rarefied world of highbrow music, he’s not going to cost Cate Blanchett any sleep.

Hathaway’s transition from therapist to postulant is a lurch no actor should be asked to navigate, and if you thought we were done with nervous breakdowns as a plot device to justify women’s illogical behavior you were wrong. Tomei is such a warm presence she can bring reality to just about anything, but Captain Katrina is asking too much; and James gets zero help from a tiresome, uptight character.

Only Kulig (so unforgettable in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War), playing a mother who puts her daughter’s happiness above all else, registers as a compassionate presence grounded in a modicum of truth.

Dessner has fun composing excerpts from two original operas, as does the design team staging those pieces. But She Came to Me is a movie whose strained eccentricity gets positively goopy, conveying so little genuine feeling that the stakes for any of the characters never feel terribly high.

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