DARKEST MIRIAM (Tribeca 2024) – Review by Sherin Nicole

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If someone asked me to contribute a song to the soundtrack for Darkest Miriam, written and directed by Naomi Jaye, it would be Splitting Atoms by the lovely, departed Lamya. Specifically, the chorus featuring the hook, “I lost but didn’t lose the lesson. Yes I’m, learning from falling, learning from falling down, hard lessons.” Like the song, the life of Toronto librarian, Miriam (Britt Lower), changes when she falls into a hole on the side of the road.

Before the fall, Miriam spends her days cataloging odd occurrences and stranger people at her library branch. There’s a Fainting Man who loses consciousness daily but refuses medical attention, and an Unusually Pale Female Patron who fights a Man With A Suitcase to use a single computer despite the availability of others. Sometimes the patrons don’t have nicknames, like whoever left their dentures on a bookshelf. Or the man who commits a lewd act behind books arranged as a screen—leaving a sticky mess behind. Each “Incident Report” ends with a designated space for “Action Taken” but without variance, Miriam writes “none.” These reports are her analog, observing without acting until she falls into that hole and looks up at the sky—perhaps for the first time.

In its early minutes, Darkest Miriam shares some sensibilities with Wes Anderson. The tone is different, however, if you trade Anderson’s whimsically extraordinary characters and locations for Jaye’s peculiarly quotidian ones, the kinship is there. Miriam’s incidental relationships with the library’s patrons are a contrast to the pain of her past. Which makes her curiously prescient. Or perhaps it isn’t extrasensory perception but instead a symptom of the anxiety of loss that makes her see it in every possibility. When she crawls out of that hole, she introduces herself to a cab driver who is actually a painter. Taking action in her life makes her vision for misery more acute.

In tandem, she begins to find sheet music from Rigoletto by Verdi—an opera her father took her to before he left for the first time. The sheet music comes with letters hidden in the stacks, which Miriam suspects are written to her. Perhaps with a threat in mind. Either way, the music and the words lead to her father and their unresolved issues. What a time to fall in love, into the past, into the unknown.

Leading a cast that plays quirk in multipart harmony, Britt Lower has gravitational pull. When the story slows you still want to sit with Miriam and hear her story. Jaye’s direction is also fresh, turning mundanity into a kind of magical realism. Based on the award-winning novel, The Incident Report by Martha Baillie, Darkest Miriam finds its rhythms in blending genres—slice-of-life, romance, thriller, comedy—into a concoction that pours its heart out and flows like the tides of life. This is the story of a woman who finds her art (how a librarian becomes a poet) and the books, dad, and reports that knew it all along.

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Sherin Nicole

Sherin Nicole writes about film and produces content for geeks and nerds alike on Geek Girl Riot.