Whatever sentiments the title Wish You Were Here evokes in you, flush them. Here is no lighthearted vacation comedy but, instead, a well-acted "psychological thriller" with few thrills but much angst.
In fact, the scariest aspect about watching Aussie writer/director Kieran Darcy-Smith's feature debut is the sinking feeling that the finale will not be worth the wait -- and when the penultimate scenes start unspooling and you realize you were clairvoyant, you will find yourself, as you mope towards the aisle, crunching any left-behind popcorn on the theater floor with unrepentant anger.
This saga begins rather joyfully with two Australian sisters vacationing in southern Cambodia in 2010. Pregnant Alice (Felicity Price) is accompanied by her rather stolid spouse, Dave (Joel Edgerton), while carefree and unwed Steph (Teresa Palmer) is under the wing of a prepossessing importer of Cambodian goods, jovial Jeremy (Anthony Starr).
The four sightsee, go to a museum featuring skulls, interact with the poor, nosh on local offerings, dance, take Ecstasy, and dance some more. And then one night Jeremy disappears. Oh, no!
Alice and Dave have to return home because they have two children staying with grandma, but Steph remains for a while before leaving the Jeremy mystery in the hands of local government officials. After all, dematerialized tourists are not uncommon occurrences in Cambodia.
But once back home, Dave can't seem to get back into his old groove. Increasingly paranoic, jealous, and secretive, this once loving dad seems headed for a breakdown or worse. Hey, are these signs that this quickly degenerating soul was somehow involved in Jeremy's vanishment? Could Dave be a murderer? And is he just a bit too hyped up when near Alice's young and slightly prettier sibling, at least in the frequent flashbacks? And where's Hitchcock when you need him more than ever?
Stretching far too hard for social relevance, Darcy-Smith unintentionally undermines this respectable but soft-hitting enterprise. Not surprisingly, this not untalented helmer has noted, "My absolute priority, from script to screen, is truth. Truth of performance, of character, and of story." Here's a case where the truth did not win out. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.