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Tugboats and Tugged Hearts: Rebecca Miller’s ‘She Came to Me’

Cinema | October 16th, 2023

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

Peter Dinklage plays a creatively blocked opera composer married to Anne Hathaway’s frustrated therapist in Rebecca Miller’s “She Came to Me,” a lighthearted if lightweight film that depends heavily on the outsize talents of its ensemble as it circles issues of love, freedom, and commitment to self and others.

On the way to becoming decidedly unblocked, Dinklage’s Steven meets tugboat captain Katrina (Marisa Tomei, making it work), whose clinical addiction to romance and sex inspires the musical tour de force that also provides the film’s title.

Meanwhile, Steven’s stepson Julian (Evan Ellison) has been intensifying a sexual relationship with girlfriend Tereza (Harlow Jane), not realizing that the small age gap between the two will emerge as a significant legal problem once Tereza’s stepdad Trey (Broadway vet Brian d’Arcy James) finds out what is happening. Tereza’s mother Magdalena (Joanna Kulig) opposes Trey, vowing to do whatever it takes to stand up for her child. Miller filters much of the film’s conflict through the Tereza/Julian story, using the mirror of dual stepfathers to touch on the class differences between the more affluent world of Julian and the less wealthy household where Tereza resides.

The movie’s setting is the dreamy version of New York popularized for so many years by the cinema of Woody Allen and seen recently in Nicole Holfcener’s “You Hurt My Feelings.” Sam Levy’s cinematography is lovely throughout. In addition to showcasing real estate that might result in some drooling, Miller stages a number of scenes in visually stimulating environs, from the dive bar where Steven first encounters Katrina to the harbor patrolled by tugboat to the fields where a Civil War battle is reenacted.

As the story unfolds, you might occasionally wish that Miller would indulge the weirder impulses of her storytelling (her 2013 novel “Jacob’s Folly” – which she should make into a movie – concerns an 18th century Frenchman reincarnated as a modern-day housefly able to enter the consciousness of others).

Nonetheless, the souls who populate “She Came to Me” fret and struggle en route to affirmations of big hearts and hope for tomorrow. The staging of Steven’s work is thrilling enough for us to desire access to the whole thing. Miller received help from several Metropolitan Opera pros and performers.

Most recently, Miller wrote and directed a 2017 documentary about her father, the playwright and American institution Arthur Miller, but her last dramatic feature was “Maggie’s Plan” in 2015. Reviewing that movie, I noted that Greta Gerwig’s title character is a “woman so determined to set things right in the universe that she selflessly orchestrates what she believes is the best possible outcome to her own failed romance.” That sentiment applies at least in part to Hathaway’s Patricia. Both she and Maggie depend on order and organization. The narrative in “She Came to Me” doesn’t stick as closely to Patricia’s arc as it does to the experiences of Steven, but Miller makes certain to end the movie with a slow pan that pays off the key personalities we have come to know. 

IF YOU GO

She Came to Me is at the Fargo Theatre 

Tuesday, October 17 at 5pm; 

Wednesday, October 18, 5pm and 7:30pm

Thursday, October 19, 4:30pm and 7pm

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