Eye For Film >> Movies >> The World To Come (2020) Film Review
The World To Come
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Thanks in no small part to Laura Ingalls Wilder, women's perspectives of 19th century life have been around for a long time, which is perhaps why, even though there is a lesbian love story at the heart of Mona Fastvold's latest film, it still feels very familiar. But The Little House On The Prairie stories are a sunny stroll compared to this rather bleak tale of life in upstate New York.
Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) cope with loss and loneliness in what feels like less like a world that's coming than the edge of the existing one. When newcomers Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and Finney (Christopher Abbott) arrive in town, the women strike up a friendship, but soon they're swapping a lot more than just cornbread recipes.
Framed by voice-over diary entries from Abigail, these interludes at first offer atmosphere - as she talks about how "the water froze on the plates as soon as they were washed" - but soon they begin to act as a sort of corset on the action, constraining all the emotions to the point where they can't catch fire, a perfect example of why narration works better in books than on film. It's not just the amount of voice-over but also Waterston's delivery, which occurs in a single register and tends towards the dreary, which is a real shame because when director Mona Fastvold (and writers Jim Shepard and Ron Hansen) allow some actual dialogue to break out, it arrives like a breath of fresh air.
These are all very capable actors - Kirby's performance, in particular, leaps from the screen every time it is given a chance - but the constant return to narration sucks the life out of things, so that the end result is curiously flat, especially compared to films like Madeleine Olnek's Wild Nights With Emily, which took a much more playful approach to Emily Dickinson's similar blend of poetry and lesbian romance in the same period.
In The World To Come, although the focus must obviously stay the central quartet, the lack of any other characters also hampers it, giving it, at times, the feel of an adapted stage play, with Fastvold's world too hermetically sealed for its own good. Meanwhile the men are given little to work with other than a single mood each (Dyer, broody; Finney, threatening), which saps the situation of more of its potential. The inventive jazz-inflected score from Daniel Blumberg suggests possibilities that the action fails to capitalise on and he's certainly a name to look out for in the future.
Overall, the story is a familiar one, with a predictably, one could even say, cliched tragic sweep - a well-trodden pioneer trail that while watchable for the fine performances, still feels overly stuck in a rut. I kept wondering what it might have been like to spend the time with Tallie's diaries - much more interesting in all departments, I suspect.Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2021
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