She Came to Me has designs on being a grand opera, but it’s definitely more of what the British call a panto. Opening at a swanky cocktail reception as a male tenor offhandedly begins singing the famous “Habanera” from Carmen, we’re introduced to the sketchily imaged beau monde existence of one Steven Lauddem (Peter Dinklage), blocked opera composer extraordinaire. He’s toasting his first commission following a breakdown, through which he met and then wed his psychiatrist Patricia (Anne Hathaway), but artistic inspiration again eludes him. They enjoy a cosseted, Brooklyn townhouse-inhabiting existence, familiar from Woody Allen and earlier Noah Baumbach pictures––a hint at the weirdly dated manner of this film where lead characters are immune from the expected satire, humbling, or cross-examination, and instead indulged for unfunny farce. 

Its writer-director is Rebecca Miller, who in the aftermath of New York Magazine’s infamous “nepo baby” mock-exposé, perhaps won’t find her family connections unscrutinised; to its credit, She Came to Me earns some grace notes leaning into the unabashedly personal, so much that we wonder which story developments are artfully pinched from real life. Maggie’s Plan, her most successful and natural-feeling film to date, had a similarly intricate screwball structure, with notable help from Ethan Hawke and Julianne Moore playing scary, elite academics, showing some not-oft-displayed comic abilities. Miller spreads herself too thin here by relying upon an even more sprawling ensemble of prestigious actors, among whom Brian d’Arcy James and especially Hathaway are the most awkwardly miscast. The latter is suited to comic roles with a dose of snobbery or acidity; here she’s a half-Jewish klutz rediscovering her Catholic side, and another addition to cinema’s sizable canon of disbarment-worthy mental health practitioners. 

Maggie’s Plan was able to generate momentum in its latter stages, tipping it from New Yorker-subscriber portraiture into romantic entanglements that comfortably evoked Shakespeare’s romcom progenitors The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing. In She Came to Me, operatic swells of romantic changeability alternate with Preston Sturges-aping screwball looniness as the other branch of the ensemble cast comes into view: a lower-class family made up of d’Arcy James and Joanna Kulig (Cold War), whose daughter Tereza (Harlow Jane) is dating Patricia’s biological and Steven’s adopted son Julian (Evan Ellison). And any possibility of laughing is verboten as the film begins awkwardly joking around accusations of statutory rape. 

Miller has also written a rangier screenplay than for the preceding film, and its engagement with religion squarely references her own life. The daughter of the great Jewish playwright Arthur Miller and the Protestant Austrian photographer Inge Morath, she practiced Catholicism voluntarily in her childhood, which is intriguingly echoed in Patricia’s trajectory but absent any of the absurdist humor it’s angling for; her attraction to the faith’s religious rituals would be better played with more dramatic solemnity, as many lapsed Catholics have fascinating readmissions into the religion in later life. References to Judaism, almost in the manner of Desplechin, come to the fore with Marisa Tomei as a Baton Rouge-born tugboat captain (I know, right?) sporting a Star of David necklace, and through Hathaway delivering what could only be described as a striptease monologue about the ingredients of kreplach, that she might want evidence of chucked into the sea in a weighted chest.  

For a weak piece of work––especially amongst its category of Berlinale opening night films––She Came to Me is always endearingly eccentric and watchable, making a late-in-the-game shift into a “comedy of remarriage,” as famously defined by the moral philosopher Stanley Cavell (who, we could note, was a close friend of Desplechin’s). Yet across 102 minutes there is but one memorable line, and it involves a mispronunciation of “composer” as “composter.”

She Came to Me premiered at the 2023 Berlinale.

Grade: C

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