SIFF Film Review – Wish You Were Here
One of the most popular comedies of the last few years, The Hangover, is considered funny because of its use of absurd humor in contrast to its underlying disturbing plot. But what if you took the humor away from the movie and decided to play it straight…as a story about a group that has to deal with the disappearance of their friend, and their varying levels of involvement in that disappearance. This is actually a very clever idea and the concept behind the mystery Wish You Were Here, the feature film debut from director/co-writer Kieran Darcy-Smith.
Wish You Were Here tells the story of two Australian couples that lose one of their members (Antony Starr) at a party one night while on vacation in Cambodia. The narrative unfolds through cutting back and forth between two parallel timelines, one in the past while on the trip and one in the present in Australia dealing with the ramifications of losing their friend. Heavily embroiled in emotions like anger, guilt, grief, fear, paranoia, and responsibility, the film raises the question: what would you have done if you were in their situation? Presented as a mystery, with only one of the survivors knowing the truth about what happened, the plot methodically unfolds like a pot of water growing to a boil. It isn’t particularly challenging to figure out which one of them knows more than they are sharing, but the questions of what are they covering up and why make the film remarkable and intriguing. Technically, it is closer to The Hangover Part II, but I digress.
The film is very well paced, gradually building to the reveal of the truth behind the disappearance and showing the impact that the stress of the situation has on the remaining members of the group (co-writer Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton, and Teresa Palmer). Both Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, Warrior) and Palmer (Warm Bodies) are steadily becoming stars by consistently putting together great performances, and they continue that trend here. Unfortunately, Palmer’s role is a lot smaller than you would hope, but she is excellent while she is on screen. The real surprise is Felicity Price, completely new to me, but turning in a fantastic performance as a pregnant woman caught in the middle of situation between her sister (Teresa Palmer) and her husband (Joel Edgerton). She is the one forced to keep everything from completely unraveling. It definitely feels like Darcy-Smith’s experience as an actor (including working with Edgerton on Animal Kingdom) paid dividends in getting the most from his cast.
One of the highlights of the movie is the beautiful use of its cinematography in showcasing the natural beauty of Cambodia and Australia. And while it might make one a bit hesitant to travel to Cambodia in the near future, it definitely makes it look vibrant and exciting. These locations are as much of a character as any of the actors. The chaotic energy of Cambodia and the stark isolation of Australia do a huge job in setting the scene as each of the characters must deal with their demons from the experience.
This is a story about secrets. Those we keep from our friends, from our family, and even those that we keep from ourselves. Certainly the disappearance is the most significant secret, but it isn’t the only one. Wish You Were Here does a great job of showing the power of the truth. It is clear from the beginning that people are hiding information, with allusions right from the first scene that we live in worlds of fantasy because we don’t want to deal with the harsh realities that surround us. It is easier to play pretend and push the truth down deep than to confront the consequences of being honest.
The presentation of the big reveal of the movie is probably one of the weakest parts. The truth behind the disappearance is told mostly in one large chunk; the reason behind it is decent but somewhat out of left field, and the resolution, once it’s revealed, is a bit brief. I wish there had been more time spent exploring the impact of this admission. It is nice, though, that the ending doesn’t come as a twist. It isn’t trying to be cute or clever by shocking the audience; it purely presents the true story as a matter of fact.
The bleak reality of Wish You Were Here is definitely not going to achieve the success of The Hangover; it isn’t going to be the upbeat crowdpleaser. The cold reality of this story is the kind that haunts you as it takes your fears and tells you they are real. It will be hard to look at The Hangover the same way ever again. Sorry, Doug, this time your ending isn’t quite so happy.
This movie plays at the Egyptian Theatre on June 7th at 9:30pm and at SIFF Cinema Uptown on June 9th at 3:00pm.
Final Grade: B