The Young Wife Review: A Visually Stunning Ode To Radical Love In Times Of Crisis [SXSW 2023]

Do you ever feel like your life isn't your own? Perhaps you feel as if there are too many people trying to tell you what you should do, what you should feel, and so on and so forth. Not to use a cliche and jokey phrase, but we live in a society that demands to know what we are doing at every single moment of our lives, never allowing anything to be truly private. Even our secret thoughts and desires are encouraged to be shared with others via private channels. Wouldn't you like just one moment of your life where you can feel totally, completely in control?

Celestina (Kiersey Clemons) certainly would, especially on the day of her non-wedding as seen throughout Tayarisha Poe's sophomore feature, "The Young Wife." She's stuck in a soul-sucking job, dealing with regret over abandoning her close-knit friend group after a tragedy, and feels as if her mother (Sheryl Lee Ralph) hates the idea of her getting married to her non-commital boyfriend, River (Leon Bridges). Even her previous source of solace in a television program hosted by personality Meditation Mary (Lovie Simone) isn't working for her anymore.

Told over the course of this chaotic day, Poe's unique filmmaking style shines even brighter than her debut, 2019's "Selah and the Spades," effectively avoiding the dread-inducing sophomore slump. Instead, the naturalistic script flows naturally with the more magical visuals, resulting in an ode to radical love that rings more important now than ever before.

Being makes you matter

What makes "The Young Wife" work is its script. Poe has an uncanny talent for making even the most unrealistic of situations feel completely natural, embracing the inherent weirdness of our current world. She manages to be completely in tune with how a stressed and terminally-online generation navigates the world around them without being hokey. It is extremely rare to manage that, but the film would not be as successful in delivering its themes if its writing was just slightly more obvious.

It's even better that this script is delivered by actors on the same wavelength, especially a career-best Clemons. It's hard to imagine Celestina, a complicated and multi-faceted character, being portrayed by anyone other than her – she brings vulnerability, stubbornness, anger, and most importantly, joy to the role in a way that feels uniquely her doing. Judith Light also shines as Celestina's soon-to-be grandmother-in-law, arguably the only person in the film that understands how debilitating her current predicament is.

While Poe's writing helps elevate "The Young Wife" from being just another piece of optimistic cinema, it's her distinct visual style that makes it a uniquely wonderful film in general. The cinematography from Jomo Fray, who also worked with Poe on "Selah and the Spades," utilizes space and distance to tremendous effect. Editor Kate Abernathy's frantic pacing also brings to life Celestina's increasing anxieties while also highlighting the moments of solace she manages to find throughout the film.

"The Young Wife" is a movie that could not have been made by anyone other than Tayarisha Poe. Thanks to her near-perfect direction and writing, everything about its reminder to embrace love, both inner and outer, signals a deserved shift into auteurism for the director. Here's to hoping the rest of the world can catch up.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10