Picture imperfect – Wish You Were Here review

Wish You Were Here – Starring Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price, and Teresa Palmer. Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Wish You Were Here is a slick, solid, and unsettling drama that plays right into Australians’ joint love and fear of travelling abroad. The opening moments of Aussie holidaymakers at a Cambodian rave are followed immediately by a sombre image of Joel Edgerton‘s Dave Flannery walking home from some unspeakable event. It’s a contrast that, whether intentional or not, evokes the death sentence issued to the Bali Nine, Schapelle Corby’s Indonesian imprisonment, and even recalls the terrible fate that befell backpacker Britt Lapthorne in Croatia. But Kieran Darcy-Smith‘s feature film debut is no true crime thriller; it’s ostensibly more concerned with the psychological toll these tragedies take on relationships. It’s well-performed, and expertly constructed. At least, until it falls apart in the end.

Following the picture’s mysterious opening, we see Dave and his pregnant wife Alice (Felicity Price, who co-wrote the script with husband Darcy-Smith) return to their Sydney home and their two kids. Though it goes unspoken, it’s heavily hinted that some tragedy occurred during their island getaway; something dramatic enough to keep them from fully integrating back into their everyday lives. Eventually it’s revealed that one of their travel companions – specifically Jeremy (Antony Starr), the boyfriend of Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) – had vanished into thin air at the end of the quartet’s trip. Dave doesn’t want to talk about it, Steph wants to talk about little else, and Alice becomes increasingly suspicious that the two of them aren’t sharing with her – or the police – all the information. She’s right.

Darcy-Smith is part of the Blue Tongue Films collective, along with the Brothers Edgerton and Animal Kingdom director David Michôd, and you can definitely see the stylistic similarities throughout their features. Cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin shoots Cambodia stunningly, though the movie itself offers a questionable and somewhat-orientalist depiction of the South-East Asian nation (its people are not portrayed in a particularly flattering light). The cast is impressive, particularly Price, who is not just the star in a narrative sense but also as the breakout performer.

Last year saw a similarly themed effort from first-timer Sean Durkin: the masterful Martha Marcy May Marlene. That picture flitted back and forth in time, slowly elaborating on the horrible experiences deeply embedded in cult-escapee Martha’s memories, whilst simultaneously explaining her fractured, increasingly paranoid psyche. It had one of the most stirring and appropriately unforgettable final shots of 2011. Wish You Were Here has a similar structure, and Dave follows a similar arc.

However, where MMMM’s final moments galvanised the drama and meaning established by the film, WYWH‘s finale sees it all unravel. All tension that had been expertly built up, and the mystery so carefully weaved throughout the narrative, is dropped and abandoned without much of a second thought, or any consequence, or even any implied consequence. A shame. Still, Edgerton and Price’s performances, along with the thoughtfully unveiled revelation of Jeremy’s true location add up to a fine Aussie feature.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Wish You Were Here arrives in Australian cinemas April 25, 2012.

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