Dir: Kieran Darcy-Smith, 2013

Married couple Dave and Alice are invited by Steph, Alice’s younger sister, and her new beau Jeremy on a sunny vacation in Cambodia. After a wild party on the beach, Jeremy goes missing. The three return home, devastated with shock, but cannot escape the tragedy of that fateful holiday as secrets begin to come to light about what happened the night of Jeremy’s disappearance.

Director Darcy-Smith, who also penned the screenplay with Felicity Price (who plays Alice), brings you Australia’s answer to The Hangover, only subtract both Bradley Cooper and an avalanche of comedy and replace them with Joel Edgerton and an equally-crushing level of guilt. Edgerton leads a terrific trio of Aussies including Price and Teresa Palmer who bring the pain as a family haunted by tragedy but none for the same reason. Darcy-Smith knows how to handle his cast, giving actors little room to breathe but knowing when to stoke the fire.

Edgerton is tremendous, brooding in a mask of anxiety whilst Price amalgamates the nerve-wracked mother and abandoned wife in a palpable state of fragility. It’s also great to see Teresa Palmer with a meatier role than that of the many patterned love interests she’s been representing in American films recently. Conversely, although we get coverage of Antony Starr’s Jeremy sufficient enough to gather an opinion of the character, that of a charming devil-may-care who plays his hand close to his chest, the brief glances we see of him in flashbacks aren’t enough to make the audience care as to just what happened to him.

At a mere ninety minutes, Wish You Were Here drags on for a peculiar amount of time, given the tension that should be building with the story being told. While the monotony of the present-day narrative is broken up by revisits to the holiday, these bursts aren’t enough to move the film forward at a healthy pace. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Dave knows more than he lets on but watching the lead character fumble about for an hour in a bizarre state of paranoia makes you question whether he’s even a character we should be connecting with. We’re treated to the cataclysmic implosion of Dave and Alice’s marriage for far too long without any hint of revelation. It’s only in the final thirty where Darcy-Smith kicks the action up a notch and tempers flare as the truth at long last comes out. Unfortunately, by the time the big reveal rears its head, it’s hard to care anymore – though not a mistake in structure as much as story.

The real tragedy of Wish You Were Here is even as the performances are at boiling point, the pace of the story isn’t observed closely enough, allowing attentions to waiver and shoulders to shrug. Recent films such as Animal Kingdom, Sleeping Beauty and Snowtown are keen demonstrations that Australian cinema is evolving in the ranks of universal storytelling. Wish You Were Here may not turn heads but it certainly won’t do anything to damage the ever-increasing reputation of contemporary Australian film.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.


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