I want to see a love story unfold, not merely be told about it
THE WORLD TO COME (2021)
Another queer romance period piece? Sign me up! The World to Come features a gay romance with dynamite actors Vanessa Kirby, Katherine Waterston, Casey Affleck, and Christopher Abbott. The trailer had me hooked as it looked like an intense drama set amidst the harsh landscape of the 1800’s. Plus I am a huge fan of the cast, particularly Kirby so I was excited to check this one out.
This is Mona Fastvold’s second feature film. I haven’t seen her first film, The Sleepwalker, so I had no idea what her style would be. Luckily, Fastvold partners with cinematographer André Chemetoff on this one and the result is magnificent. The cinematography is gorgeous and Fastvold does a good job of not objectifying her subjects in a way that feels intrusive. She works her magic behind the camera and pulls out some nice performances from her stellar cast. Stylistically Fastvold plays it straight forward and doesn’t take any huge risks. She keeps the movie understated and builds tension bit by bit. Overall, this is a solid directorial effort from Fastvold.
The World to Come has an interesting premise. It’s set in the 1800’s and showcases how difficult life was for people who relied on working the land to make a living. Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and her husband Dyer (Casey Affleck) have a well established farm that they work on alone. Newcomers Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and her husband Finney (Christopher Abbott) show up and rent some land to use for a slaughterhouse. Abigail and Tallie start up an intense friendship that slowly develops into something else. The movie takes a look at life for women in this era and the small amount of choices they had. The backdrop is one of hardship and sadness. What we think of as minor inconveniences today like weather, fires, sickness, and distance all play a major role in the plot and affect the characters in different ways. The plot could have been excellent, however the way Tallie and Abigail’s friendship is presented at the beginning makes it difficult to get on board. It all feels very rushed and seems to break the golden rule of screenwriting which is show don’t tell. The movie relies too much on the use of voice over to get the plot moving. Instead of watching Tallie and Abigail’s friendship develop, we are told through voice over about their connection. While I understood the use of voice over as a tool for Abigail to express herself (she is shy but incredibly intelligent) I would have preferred to see the relationship unfold without the voice over interrupting.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
With such a stellar cast it comes as no surprise that the acting was noteworthy. Affleck and Abbott don’t get a lot of screen time or dialogue but they do the best with what they have. Affleck in particular shows a man who is of his time, but he loves his wife in some manner and when the going gets tough he becomes a partner to her in the way she needs. Abbott’s character is tougher to like, but he is perfect as the sleazy husband. The movie mainly focuses on the relationship between the women and both Waterston and Kirby deliver astounding performances. Waterston does the best she can with the shy and somewhat aloof Abigail. But it is Kirby who steals the show here. She is captivating from the start and as the more outgoing of the two she has a bit more material to work with. Kirby makes the most of her scenes and hands down is the best performance in the movie.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
There aren’t a lot of visual effects aside from a snowstorm and a house fire but those are handled nicely. The snowstorm in particular is done very well as a heavy dose of white blocks out all but the faintest images on the screen. It succeeds in making you feel as if you’re lost in the storm and can’t make heads or tails of what is going on around you. The design is also perfectly done with the houses and farms adhering to the time period and setting the tone for what life was like in the 1800’s. Every detail of the houses is crafted with the intent of showcasing how small things that could be accomplished in an instant today, might have taken much longer a few hundred years ago. It sets the stage nicely and makes you feel fully engrossed in the time period.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I rather liked the score which was composed by Daniel Blumberg. You probably haven’t heard of Blumberg as this is one of the few scores he’s done, but he does very well here. The scene with the snowstorm relies heavily on the alarming music crafted by Blumberg via clarinets to create an atmosphere of panic and chaos. It is disarmingly effective. He also inserts moments of tension with low and drawn out compositions that evoke the danger that is always lurking in the background. I’m excited to see what Blumberg does next, as his pieces were very effective in this movie.
I had high hopes for The World to Come but it didn’t quite meet my expectations. The overreliance on voiceover to communicate the relationship between Abigail and Tallie annoyed me and took away from what could have been a compelling love story. I want to see a love story unfold, not merely be told about it. There wasn’t enough chemistry between the two women at the beginning to really engage me with their story. It wasn’t until a bit past the middle of the movie in a scene where Tallie and Abigail are laying in the woods where I got a sense of their connection. By then, I wasn’t invested enough to truly care. Kirby steals the show as she typically does and her character Tallie is by far the most interesting on screen. If only the rest of the movie had contained Kirby’s zeal and passion, this might have been a love story for the ages.
Bleecker Street will release THE WORLD TO COME in theaters February 12th, 2021 and on digital March 2nd, 2021