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Wish You Were Here (2013)
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by Jay Seaver

"A postcard you maybe send after you get home."
4 stars

"Wish You Were Here" pulls off something of a neat trick, even if it doesn't always mean to: The filmmakers might not have anticipated Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer getting top billing Stateside (they've each put on North American accents in a few movies here) even though it's star and co-writer Felicity Price that has the spotlight for much of the movie, but the way they slide the focus over to another character deliberate and well-done. It makes for quite the satisfying little movie.

Things start off in Cambodia, mostly presented in as an opening-credit montage of two Australian couples on vacation: Dave (Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Price) are taking a quick break from their two kids along with Alice's younger sister Steph (Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr). When the movie reconnects with Dave & Alice back in Sydney, the fun times of just days ago seem completely forgotten; Jeremy has disappeared and Steph is coming back, feeling like there's nothing more she can do. And it's not long before Alice notices both her husband and her sister behaving strangely.

The question of Jeremy's disappearance is what supplies a fair amount of Wish You Were Here's tension, but Price and director/co-writer Kieran Darcy-Smith don't treat it as a traditional solvable mystery with clues and connections that the audience is going to be able to merge into an answer at roughly the same time as the characters. On a practical level, they can't - the evidence is all in Southeast Asia; what are they going to play detective with? So they find another set of screws to twist that could quite easily connect to the other story, and even if it's not quite clear how, it's dramatic enough on its own.

Since this is a movie, and a tight one, things do connect, although sometimes less as cause-and-effect than as threads rubbing against each other coincidentally. Hints are dropped, and things run in parallel, although thankfully never just for the gimmick of being similar; the characters at least unconsciously notice and react to them. There's a bit of misdirection (and maybe padding) or two that are somewhat obvious by how much those scenes don't really fit in, but those bits are both in the minority and somewhat justifiable in showing just how far off the characters are leading themselves. The existence of narrative blind alleys is important here.

It certainly gives the cast some room to work that they might not otherwise have. Felicity Price, especially, is quite impressive. She hasn't written herself a bunch of indulgent scenes, but she nails a lot of little details in how the stress affects Alice, especially as she moves from the periphery of the story to the center, and her reactions change but not in a way that registers as selfish. It's never difficult to reconcile the carefree woman flashed back to in the Cambodia scenes with the responsible mother or angry person in a bad situation. Edgerton is good too, never seeming particularly relaxed but finding good gradations in Dave's anxiety; it's a performance that will probably look even better on the second time through the movie. Teresa Palmer isn't quite giving a performance that needs re-examining, but it's quite an authentic collapse, and when the characters mention that maybe she's had issues in the past, the audience will figure that makes sense. Jeremy is, of necessity, a likable cipher, but Antony Starr handles the "likable" part well enough that the audience doesn't dwell too much on the "cipher" part.

Darcy-Smith does well enough in putting the cast in situations where they can excel, which in some ways is the most important part of his job in a movie like this. There are times when he and editor Jason Ballantine seem like they could do a little better, as flashbacks are tricky things, and theirs don't always come right when either the viewer needs this audience or the character is most likely to reflect. There's also a sort of cliffhanger moment that really doesn't need the story to go elsewhere late in the movie. He does use his locations well, though - he makes Cambodia feel simultaneously paradisaical and dangerous, while the Flannerys' home in Sydney is a very nice spot that seems to lose its luster as the movie goes on, even if it's the characters who mainly change. And while children can often be treated sort of like a blunt anchor by these movies, there are a couple of very nice scenes where Darcy-Smith uses the noise four- and five-year-olds create to build a bit of stress without making them into props.

It all pulls together quite well, especially when you consider that Darcy-Smith and company bring it in at a smidge under an hour and a half (typically, this sort of serious drama would be at least fifteen minutes longer to no particular benefit). As a domestic drama with a thriller hook, it might be easy to think "Wish You Were Here" is either dry or a genre film, but it actually does a much better than expected job of straddling to two.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23216&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/11/13 14:32:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2012 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  07-Jun-2013 (R)
  DVD: 10-Sep-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  26-Apr-2012 (MA)
  DVD: 10-Sep-2013




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