Friday, September 21, 2012

Wish You Were Here

Kieran Darcy-Smith's Wish You Were Here opens with a whirlwind tour of Cambodia. Four Australian tourists experience the local culture as they would an amusement park. Are they naive and entitled or just adventurous and free-spirited? Whatever the case, only three of them return home. Steph (Teresa Palmer) agonizes over the disappearance of her boyfriend Jeremy (Antony King). His absence hangs over Steph's sister Alice (Felicity Price) and her husband Dave (Joel Edgerton).

Alice must deal with this mystery as she teaches, cares for two children, and carries a third child inside. Price is generally excellent as the mostly contained Alice. She is the center of the film. King is likable if low-key as Jeremy, the mysterious businessman. Palmer's Steph is pretty but self-centered. Edgerton is painfully believable as the traumatized and increasingly erratic Dave. Tender moments with Dave and Alice's adorable and observant children as well as most character interactions are quite realistic.

Because of the story's non-chronological narrative, the plot feels a little thin. Too much depends on reveals, making many scenes more puzzling than intriguing. The audience sees characters react to events that are explained late in the film. This reduces the impact of the actors' work through much of the movie. The film also has several cliches about the "exotic third-world country." Dangerous natives, friendly children, and bright colors are all on display here. There is some subtle lampooning of these travelers, who are as dutifully somber visiting a memorial as they are gleeful when buying overpriced trinkets.

The camera attempts to convey a sense of realism while capturing a peaceful beauty that contrasts with the characters' internal lives. The soundtrack is lively and fitting, especially the haunting closing song "Bend With Me." Though Wish You Were here is a credible and sometimes harrowing psychological study, it leaves the viewer wanting something more.

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