Tayarisha Poe’s “The Young Wife” is a sweet, whimsical, retro-futuristic narrative film about a woman’s life. Set in the near future, it follows a day from the life of soon-to-be-wed Celestina, reflecting on her hopes, regrets, and privileges. It explores the anxieties of young adults who cannot afford to dream anymore in an increasingly inhospitable world where dreams feel like a luxury. Besides Kiersey Clemons in the lead, it features an impeccable cast of Leon Bridges, Kelly Marie Tran, Michaela Watkins, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Judith Light Aya Cash, Sandy Honig, Brandon Micheal Hall, and Lukita Maxwell.

Spoilers Ahead.

The Young Wife (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Written & directed by Tayarisha Poe, “The Young Wife” revolves around Celestina, a young woman about to get married, who tries to understand her place in the world in the presence of her friends and relatives.

What happens in ‘The Young Wife’?

“The Young Wife” follows a day in the life of Celestina (Kiersey Clemons), who is about to marry the love of her life, River (Leon Bridges). The story is set in the near future when most people need oxygen resources to help with their breathing problems. The world becomes increasingly difficult to survive with unpredictable weather conditions like floods & storms. Despite these external issues, Celestina is more concerned about losing her hopes and dreams. So, she quits her soul-crushing job the day before her wedding with River. Being dissatisfied with the soulless pursuit of money, she makes this possibly impulsive decision.

Regardless, she has to proceed with greeting her friends and relatives even if she doesn’t like them all. The guests include River’s sisters, Fern (Lukita Maxwell), Rose (Aya Cash), and Daisy (Sandy Honig), besides his ma, Lara (Michaela Watkins), and his grandma, Cookie (Judith Light). Moreover, Celestina invites her friends, Geoffrey (Connor Paolo), Ayman (Brandon Micheal Hall), Sabrina (Aida Osman), & Tessa (Kelly Marie Tran), and her maman, Angelique (Sheryl Lee Ralph). On top of that, Dave (Jon Rdunitsky), her coworker, is a surprise self-invited guest. She despises him.

Celestina’s Marriage

Celestina tells Cookie how her father found the land of the house where she currently lives. She explains how her parents were co-dependent despite not being an ideal couple. Cookie keeps smoking throughout their conversation despite her breathing issues. Eventually, Celestina’s friends and River’s family arrive and discuss Celestina’s sudden decision to get married. They talk about marriage as an institution and reflect upon her choice to change or not change her last name. While catering to all their requests and queries, Celestina looks utterly exhausted. Still, she finds moments of respite in Cookie, who acts as a vessel for her fears about the changing world.

The Worries Beyond Marriage

On the day of her marriage, Celestina stresses over a couple of her worries. Apart from having second thoughts about her marriage, she also worries about her life beyond marriage. Sabrina believes Celestina rushed into leaving her job without thinking about an alternate source of income. She points out how River doesn’t have a source of income either. He jumped from one creative interest to the other without committing to any. Despite his arrested development, Celestina didn’t want to lead her life working tirelessly without any joy or satisfaction. That’s why she decided to quit.

Sabrina works at a job that doesn’t please her but offers her enough money to sustain life and pursue her creative fancies without the worries of monetizing them. So Celestina wonders if she is taking her privilege for granted. After all, not everyone can just quit their job on a whim without actively thinking of their future. Celestina’s ex-colleague, Dave unashamedly benefits without doing anything substantial as a consultant. It irks her. On the other hand, Celestina’s maman doesn’t like her leading her life as a mere housewife after her fine education. She thinks Celestina is giving up on her ambitions for her love.

Celestina’s Mental Chaos

The Young Wife (2023) Movie Review & Ending Explained
A still from “The Young Wife” (2023)

Throughout the day of Celestina’s wedding, one or the other person presses her buttons. They share their opinions about her life decisions and judge her without understanding her perspective. So, Celestina gets tired of being just an object for them to reflect upon or criticize. She worries whether she is making the biggest mistake of her life. Amid all this, Cookie offers her the mental strength to get through the ordeal. She answers Celestina’s queries with openness and wisdom.

The Young Wife (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

Does Celestina find peace at the end of the day?

On the day of her wedding, Celestina grapples with her worries about love & commitment. Her friends and relatives make her contemplate the feasibility and morality of her decisions. Sabrina points out how they are not in their teens or their early twenties to make such rash decisions. So, Celestina feels guilt about her privilege. Ayman makes her wonder whether she is at her peak only in grad school. Then, her maman makes her worry whether she is wasting her life and following the conventional steps of womanhood. She isn’t marrying River to be a housewife. But is that all she will end up being?

Is there anything else to her identity? And is she worthless without a pursuit? Will a marriage break her past bonds beyond repair? How can she make up for her regrets and neglect for others? She can’t stop thinking about these concerns. In this chaos, Cookie feels like the only calming force. Even if Celestina’s bond with River reflects a sense of peace, a marriage comes with its only set of complications. Also, she didn’t discuss her decision to leave her job with River. Alas, despite their difference of opinion, “The Young Wife” ends on a sweet note when the couple passionately kisses each other. But it doesn’t offer a concrete answer about the future of their marriage.

The Young Wife (2023) Movie Review:

“The Young Wife” is a hyper-stylized depiction of a young woman’s anxieties as she decides to marry her love. Just the day before her wedding, she left her job without caring enough about the practicality of her decision. So, throughout her wedding day, she mulls over her choices and how they correspond with her position in the world while speaking with her guests. Their conversations about jobs and careers aren’t new or original since they mainly replicate the endless social media discourse about capitalism among the younger generations.

However, the script is far more compelling when it explores Celestina’s inner turmoil as a woman. Even through her last-minute jitters, the script offers a visceral depiction of known struggles. It highlights her concerns about the agency over her life and the roles she is designed to play and supposed to rebel against. Besides her, Judith Light’s character is equally intriguing due to her rejection of conventional old-age tropes. She refuses to live as a representation of impending death for the young generation. But Light never lets her appear trite.

The Style of ‘The Young Wife’

“The Young Wife” presents a peculiar aesthetic that initially feels artsy without a purpose. However, the chosen combination of shapes, colors, and patterns offers a fever dream-like experience and suits the film’s emotional canvas. The costumes have a distinctly retro vibe filled with vibrant, popping colors. So, amidst them, Celestina’s paler-hued sweatshirt makes her stand out and reflects her gloominess about her worries. The anxiety-inducing tour through Celestina’s mind feels quite similar to Danielle’s in Emma Seligman’s “Shiva Baby”

It is similarly cluttered with a heightened sense of chaos. But unlike Seligman’s film, the performances in “The Young Wife” feel intentionally over-performed (and rarely subdued) to present Celestina’s chaotic mental state. Overall, the style dictates the communication in its minimal script. While the performances by Judith Light, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Michaela Watkins stand out among its ensemble, Kiersey Clemons’s performance is the key driving force for a character that soaks in every emotion around her like a sponge. She makes you root for Celestina despite the film’s relatively scant thematic exploration.

Read More: Firebrand (2024) Movie Review: Jude Law and Alicia Vikander Elevate Aïnouz’s English Outing into a Compulsive Drama

Trailer:

The Young Wife (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
The Young Wife (2023) Movie Cast: Kiersey Clemons, Leon Bridges, Kelly Marie Tran, Michaela Watkins, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Judith Light Aya Cash, Sandy Honig, Brandon Micheal Hall, Lukita Maxwell
The Young Wife (2023) Movie Released on May 31, Runtime: 1h 38m, Genre: Drama
Where to watch The Young Wife

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