Wish You Were Here is best enjoyed by those who are big fans of the actors involved or love any sort of strangers in a strange land flick.
In Wish You Were Here, two couples take a trip from Australia to South-East Asia on holiday – but only three of them return. Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Felicity Price) have two children (and one on the way) – so for them, coping is a must. Alice’s younger sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) is left worrying about the fate of her missing beau, Jeremy (Antony Starr), with nary a person to lean on for support.
As the toll of that terrible trip wears on the trio, secrets from the past begin to surface, pointing towards ugly truths that none of them may be ready to face.
Wish You Were Here has a strong cast, an interesting enough premise and competent direction all going for it; however, the script and structure of the film are not well conceived and as a result, the movie is fairly obvious and gimmicky in its progression of red herring moments, culminating in a lukewarm climax.
This import is the feature debut of Kieran Darcy-Smith, who starred alongside Edgerton in films like The Square and the Oscar-nominated Animal Kingdom. Darcy-Smith also co-wrote the film with leading lady Felicity Price, and while the intention was admirable, the film’s flashback narrative structure fails to leave room for compelling tension or even a bit of surprise. From a very early scene there is clear idea of what answer waits at the end of this mystery; worse yet, the trail of red herrings to get said answer is like watching a highlight reel of every mystery movie cliche you could guess just from reading the film’s premise.
To their credit, the actors all put in convincing performances and carry off some tense dramatic moments very well. Price (whose character is pregnant throughout) is particularly good, while the always-reliable Edgerton carries one the film’s more layered and tricky character arcs with commitment and understated gusto. Palmer, for her small part, is charming and lovely and holds her end of the drama; on a moment-to-moment character level, Wish You Were Here is pretty solid, though that’s about the best thing to be said about it.
Darcy-Smith’s direction is technically sound – especially the early scenes of South East Asia (including a fantastic travel montage). The Asiatic portions of the film are pretty memorable and often gorgeously shot; the domestic scenes back in Australia are solid as well, though there are some questionable lingering camera angles during some of the domestic scenes of dramatic dialogue. Again, it’s the editing and structure of the film (the “telling” of the story, as it were) that is hard to overlook – as are the gimmicky red herrings the film considers “twists.” The promise of mystery and thrills proves empty, the drama feels hollow as a result, and it’s only the strength of the characters and the intrigue of an exotic locale that make the journey at all interesting.
In short, Wish You Were Here is best enjoyed by those who are big fans of the actors involved or love any sort of “strangers in a strange land” flick; it won’t be at all satisfying to those looking for a strong psychological drama/mystery.
Wish You Were Here has been out since last year overseas, but is getting a U.S. theatrical release starting June 7, 2013.