Movie Review: Wish You Were Here [MA]


Director : Kieran Darcy-Smith

Starring : Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price. Teresa Palmer, Antony Starr, Tina Bursill

Running Time :  89 minutes

Release Date :   26 April 2012

Two Australian couples head off to Cambodia for a holiday. Married couple Dave (Edgerton) & Alice (Price) join Alice’s sister Steph (Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Starr) for a week of the normal touristy stuff. They ride bikes, go to temples, laugh with local kids, eat crickets, buy cheap trinkets, eat local food, drink local booze and end their trip with a drug and alcohol fuelled beach party. This is all pretty average stuff for a group of young Aussies taking a week out from life in South east Asia.

But only 3 of the 4 friends make it back to Australia. The disappearance of Jeremy is basically assumed knowledge from the start. This allows for the a slow, steady unravelling of the story of not only the week in Cambodia but what may or may not be simmering family tensions.

The first secret to come out is not unexpected. It sets the tone of suspicion and jealousy and secrecy that permeates the movie. It seems that everyone has a secret. As more people become involved…. the mother of the Alice & Steph (a seemingly ageless Bursill), Jeremy’s distraught parents and the Federal Police…. I found myself looking for clues. Listening closely and watching the flashbacks carefully trying to piece it all together before the finale.

It is almost a cliché how obvious it is that Dave knows more than he is letting on right from the start. As the story of the holiday, together with flashbacks of life before the holiday, is revealed, you just want Dave to speak up and say what he knows. But what does he know? He’s just an average Aussie bloke caught up in a bad, bad situation right? Or is he?

Dave’s reluctance to speak with anyone, including his pregnant wife Alice, is what drives the plot. That his wife is becoming more isolated, more distraught, more suspicious, seems to mean little to Dave. Nothing, it seems, will make him speak up. The pressure from everyone is intense and as we start to piece together the trip and why they perhaps were really in Cambodia, the tension builds.

I loved this movie. I am actually hoping I can see it again before it leaves cinemas.  Joel Edgerton continues what seems to be his love affair with South East Asia. Have you seen the achingly beautiful The Waiting City?  If not, you should. Okay, okay I know he has done lots of other work between then and now but his movies with this kind of Asian connection are just so beautiful I cannot help but comment.  Edgerton is a film maker not just an actor and this shows. His real joy appears to be in storytelling.

Wish You Were Here moves along at a steady pace. It was perfect as far as I was concerned. It wasn’t needlessly drawn out or overplayed to the point of frustration. The tension built and was timed just so. As the movie moved between the present day, the holiday and pre-holiday, you always felt a full story was being explored. Sure we knew Dave was holding out on us but I wanted to know why. I didn’t just want the tension to end. There is a big difference.

It was a very Australian story. The characters were just ordinary people, people we encounter every day. I have seen some criticism that the actors didn’t invest themselves in the characters. I strongly disagree. I loved the way the actors played their characters. Throughout, I felt I knew these people and thus this situation really could happen to anyone. Cambodia is a popular destination for Aussies so this slightly uncomfortable feeling was very real. A simple twist of fate or one bad choice and this could be me tomorrow.

The camerawork was gorgeous. I loved the hand held feel that was used at times. I love love loved the lighting. The use of dawn and dusk. It is in the still of night during the rain that many dramatic moments are played out. Alice confronts Steph at night and Alice confronts everything on a rainy, dismal night. Of course, Australia has been almost monsoonal for 2 years so this may have been chance.  Even if it was, it works.

As dawn is breaking, Dave loses everything. It is a pivotal moment and set against the spectacular Aussie panorama, it is dramatic and beautiful. As tense and unnerving as it is, it is truly a beautiful time and the actors involved in this scene bring such depth and emotion that I found myself wiping away a tear or two.

I am, as always, a great supporter of the Aussie film industry and this film does nothing but validate my feelings of pride for local film makers, actors, writers, producers and everyone else involved. This movie was an Official Selection at Sundance, a place Edgerton and his Blue-Tongue Films must be feeling is a second home, and rightly so. Go and see this movie, you won’t be disappointed. I look forward to their next production.


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