SUNDANCE REVIEW: THE WORLD TO COME (2020)

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby in Mona Fastvold’s ‘The World to Come.’

“When the day is done, my mind turns to her and I think, why are we to be separated?”

Two women, set in the mid 19-century, find a unique friendship — a bond — that comes from being the wives of manly men working their land. The World to Come is breaking no creative barriers here. A similar film would be 2019’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire — a striking take on the forbidden love between two women. But where Lady on Fire excels, The World to Come is a tedious film to sit through.

The World to Come is told through the eyes of its main character, Abigail (Katherine Waterston), as she writes down the “events” of her day in a journal. In a small East Coast town, the wind has blown in a new couple, Finney and Tallie. Immediately, Abigail is struck by Tallie’s beauty as she sits in the carriage with her husband. Tallie (Vanessa Kirby), with her long red hair, has an air of mystery about her. She begins to frequently visit Abigail at her home while both of their husbands are out working their farms. The simple chit chat of words between them brings them closer — birthing a close friendship that soon develops into something more. The women yearn for one another as if they have found the missing link to their lives. And Abigail waits, with bated breath, wondering if Tallie will grace the doorway of her house.

My feelings towards The World to Come are heavily mixed. As I said, there’s nothing specifically new, or impactful, about the story here. I’ve spoken about my immense respect for Vanessa Kirby’s choice of characters as of late. However, where I look for her usual talents, it seems to be hindered by the suffocation in the lack of character building. Both Kirby and Katherine Waterston needed their characters to be given more of a story arch, providing the audience more ways of becoming deeply invested into the women’s situation. Abigail, for instance, mostly consists of her pacing around the room narrating the days that go by. “July 16th: I saw a dog today. July 17th: No sign of Tallie. July 19th: I went to the store.” Though the dialogue may not be as blasé as that, it’s not far from it.

The constant drone of narration, which in my opinion was a mistake and only made the film harder to watch, fills in the holes when there is nothing else that can happen. My perplexity with The World to Come only continued as I saw that the screenplay was written by two men, Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard. This makes sense as to why the men in the film were well thought out. The husbands Dyer (Casey Affleck) and Finney (Christopher Abbott) are complex beings — torn up inside for their differing reasons, but the women are one-dimensional. As I sat and watched this painfully tedious film, I had no connection to these two women. There was nothing inside me that felt for them as people, because their interactions between one another felt hollow and glossed over. I don’t know the extent of Waterston and Kirby’s working friendship, nor do I care to dip into that. However, the onscreen chemistry between them was way off. The effort of telling a story between two women who are eager to develop their romance into something more, is lost.

The categories for which The World to Come excels, appears to be the art direction and the mastery of detail it took to make this look like a legitimate 19-century environment. But besides that, the film is a dud. My criticism following my viewing weighs heavy on me as my immense excitement for its showing at Sundance provoked me to instantly purchase a ticket. But I’ve said it twice, and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing creatively new here. It looks like you can easily move on from The World to Come.

The World to Come

Directed by: Mona Fastvold

Written by: Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, and Casey Affleck

Rating: D