Lesbian costume dramas really seem to be all the rage these days in independent filmmaking. From Todd Haynes’ awards friendly “Carol” (2015), to Celine Sciamma’s critical darling “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019), to Jessica Swarle’s “Summerland” and Frances Lee’s “Ammonite” just last year. This month, Mona Fastvold’s “The World to Come” now joins the club by going to VOD and streaming after a limited theatrical release during Valentine’s Day. Fastvold’s film quickly gained online hype from the film sides of social media after debuting at the Venice Film Festival last September. Now general movie fans can see for themselves if it earned the hype.
In a dreary, freezing winter season on the east coast frontier in mid-19th century America, two married couples live near each other with similar, yet different situations. Abigail (Katherine Waterston) and Dyer (Casey Affleck) live isolated while running their farm after the tragic death of their 5-year-old daughter from Typhoid. Tallie (Vanessa Kirby) and Finney (Christopher Abbott) move into the area temporarily for Finney’s career. By summertime, Abigail and Tallie have not only formed a quick friendship from the neglect and business of their husbands, but also a more intimate bond.
The Rotten Tomatoes rating score for “The World to Come” going from 88% to 72% in the past month sounds about right to me. Part of me almost wishes I hadn’t known beforehand the screenplay was written by two men—Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, and adapted from Shepard’s own 2017 short story—because I ended up nitpicking a bit more with their take on this kind of story than I would otherwise. Despite the time period, as well as Abigail being book smart and having a journal; I also found some of the narration and dialogue exchanges slightly overwrought and pretentious, particularly during the romantic scenes.
What does work with “The World to Come” is Fastvold’s direction, which reminds me a little of David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” (2013), and also co-stars Affleck. In some ways, I actually found Fastvold’s effort with “To Come” more effective than Lowery on “Bodies Saints.” Specifically with, what I assume looks like real celluloid instead of digital film, for Andre Chemetoff’s cinematography alongside Daniel Blumberg’s eerie music score. Both give the universe and atmosphere Fastvold has crafted an ominous and introspective feel. Waterston, Affleck and Abbott are all great actors, but Kirby really shines here with a sensual performance that comes off successfully retro yet modern.
“The World to Come” has its pros and cons, but it’s still a decent new release, especially compared to what we usually get for film in late winter/early spring.