In Rebecca Miller’s ‘She Came to Me,’ a Blocked Composer Finds Inspiration Aboard a Tugboat

An artist’s journey takes an unexpected turn in “She Came to Me,” the latest feature from writer-director Rebecca Miller. Peter Dinklage leads an ensemble cast as Steven Lauddem, a New York City-based opera composer with a devastating case of writer’s block, who finds inspiration in an unexpected place after an encounter with love addict and tugboat captain Katrina (Marisa Tomei). Anne Hathaway co-stars as Patricia, his therapist-turned-wife who is having her own journey with her growing devotion to religion.

Once considered a musical genius, Steven suffered a nervous breakdown following his last opera five years prior to the start of the story. He has since married his former therapist and has mostly recovered, but he is still dealing with writer’s block. Although Patricia is invested in her husband’s mental and physical health, overall, the marriage is running on fumes. When Steven initiates weeknight sex, she replies that it is an “interesting idea,” leaving the impression that her playing a caretaker role has put a damper on her passion for him.

Meanwhile, someone who is bursting with passion is Katrina. How does an opera composer meet a tugboat captain, you ask? Steven ends up talking to her after he ducks into a dive bar while walking his dog one morning. She is temporarily docked in the city and has decided to grab a beer, ostensibly to unwind on her day off. Intrigued, Steven accepts an invite to check out her boat, and her true intentions are revealed. After they hook up, he accidentally ends up in the water and comes to the surface with the idea for his next opera, a sexual thriller about a woman tugboat captain.

Just as she did in “Maggie’s Plan,” Miller does a solid job of not only creating quirky characters, but also spinning-an intriguing web around them. Anne Hathaway channels her inner control freak as Patricia, a woman who is so type A that her idea of a good time is doing housework alongside her hired cleaning lady, Polish immigrant Magdalena (played by acclaimed actor Joanna Kulig in her first American film). She finds herself becoming more attracted to Catholicism and the idea of becoming a nun, and this life change seems to be motivated less by religious fervor and more by her OCD. Her strongest desire is to shed her worldly possessions and have a quiet, clean room to herself at a convent. Her and Steven’s mostly separate worlds collide one day when Katrina shows up for a therapy session. 

If all this was not enough, there is a third plot involving the romance between Julian (Evan Ellison), Patricia’s 18-year-old son (and Steven’s stepson), and Tereza (Harlow Jane), the 16-year-old daughter of Magdalena. Despite the differences in their backgrounds, the young lovers appear to be deeply in love and have similar goals. But Magdalena’s partner, Trey (Brian d’Arcy James), Tereza’s adopted father, is almost as anal retentive as Patricia. His possessiveness of Tereza borders on creepy, and trouble arises after he finds out that the teens are having sex and decides to take legal action against Julian. While this subplot makes the film feel overstuffed, and could be a whole other feature, it is thought-provoking in the way it examines race, class and young love.

A lot goes on in the fanciful third act, while Miller attempts to keep this ship on course. In a satisfying twist, Steven and Julian end up finding themselves in need of Katrina’s services as a boat captain. At the end of this journey, Steven walks away learning that help, inspiration, and even love, can be found in the most unlikely places. Sitting in front of an instrument or computer may not cure writer’s block, but living one’s life to the fullest will.

She Came to Me” releases Oct. 6 in select theaters.