Wish You Were Here
Details: (MA15+), 89 mins, In Cinemas 26 April 2012, Australia, English
Synopsis: Four friends lose themselves in a carefree South-East Asian holiday. Only three come back. Dave and Alice return home to their young family desperate for answers about Jeremy's mysterious disappearance. When Alice's sister Steph returns not long after, a nasty secret is revealed about the night her boyfriend went missing. But it is only the first of many. Who amongst them knows what happened on that fateful night when they were dancing under a full moon in Cambodia?
Taut, tension-filled drama marks a fine debut for Darcy-Smith.
In Kieran Darcy-Smith’s compelling directorial debut, an evening of reckless abandon sets in motion a tragic chain of events that unravels a well-to-do family’s very existence.
The character actor-turned-filmmaker exhibits a master’s touch in handling a complex script (co-written with his wife and in-sync leading lady, Felicity Price) that asks deep moral questions of its characters while structurally bouncing them to and fro from the hedonistic world of Cambodian night-life to a beachside suburb in Sydney. At once a murder-mystery, a study of the decaying consequences of infidelity and a heart-tugging domestic drama, Wish You Were Here is further indication (after Animal Kingdom and The Square) that the Australian film industry is capable of telling thrilling contemporary stories with world-class dexterity.
Central to the blurry morality is Joel Edgerton’s upper-middle-class dad, Dave. Very early on, we learn that the trip he took to South East Asia with his wife Alice (Price), her younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and Steph’s charming new beau Jeremy (Antony Starr) holds dark secrets beyond their frivolous indulgence in the local party-drug culture. Jeremy disappeared late one particularly wild night, and the other three have returned to Sydney to try and restructure their lives to accommodate their shared guilt/secrets/despair.
The scenes in Cambodia create tension superbly. Dave, about to expand his brood with a third child, is clearly farewelling his younger party-guy self, embodied by the mysterious Jeremy; the situations he puts himself in are no place for an ageing family man. Alice and Steph are happy sisters, but sibling rivalry bubbles whenever either utters a judgmental word. The film’s first 15 minutes offer expertly-crafted character definition as good as any Australian film of the last decade. Several international reviews stemming from the film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival have justifiably likened Wish You Were Here to Ray Lawrence’s Lantana in its confident reliance on character arcs over an obvious narrative thread to convey tension.
Darcy-Smith’s steadfast commitment to spotlighting the darkness inside them throughout most of the film, though, is ultimately why the final scenes feel so deflating. There is a specific moment, involving Dave, a steering wheel, and a sunset, when Wish You Were Here should end; Edgerton’s teary-eyed stare creates an ambiguity that extends to all of the characters’ futures. Unfortunately, the subsequent scenes neatly wrap up the family’s fate; it’s the only point in the film that Darcy-Smith dictates to, rather than engages, his audience.
Teresa Palmer’s Steph is also a little undercooked (though the actress is as captivating as ever) and ultra-sensitive types may rally against the depiction of Cambodia’s village men as one-dimensionally criminal and wholly deranged. But Darcy-Smith, his producer Angie Fielder, and especially his editor Jason Ballantine, have generally offered up a calling-card film as good as any from anywhere in the world.
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