Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wish You Were Here

Originally, I was thinking of pairing this up with The Prey as sort of a de facto import thrillers double-feature, but the times didn't line up particularly well - it was the sort of situation where there's about an hour between movies, which isn't enough time to sit down to eat or do some shopping if you're going to give yourself any margin with the T - so they got pushed to separate days while the nice weather for sitting outside and reading got The Purge and Before Midnight pushed to "sometime later next week". It's fine, though; as it turns out, the two would have been more of a complementary double feature than a thematic one, with The Prey pretty much all action and plot while Wish You Were Here was much more a character piece. Heck, I'd argue that only one of the two thriller moments was successful.

Still, it wound up being a pretty good drama, and pulled off a nice balancing act in how it establishes this big set of unusual things happening before spending a bunch of time on a story that is much more conventional and domestic. It's the sort of thing that I usually don't like at all - why use a big canvas to tell a small story? - but it's pulled off unusually well here, in large part because the bigger-seeming story is never that far off.

It's also kind of fun to hear some of the actors with their actual Australian accents. Joel Edgerton is probably best known for an Aussie role (Animal Kingdom), but I'm not sure how much that was seen compared to The Great Gatsby or Zero Dark Thirty (or, hey, the Star Wars prequels). I get the feeling that he's going to be unfairly overlooked as a pretty great actor over the next few years because he does blend into his parts so seamlessly, no matter where he's working. Similarly, I saw and liked Teresa Palmer in Warm Bodies earlier this year, and it looks like she's done a fair amount of movies where she plays an American teenager lately, but she's ten times better as an Australian adult.

(It is amazing, though, how well Australian actors slip into playing Americans or Brits as necessary. I've heard it's mostly just a matter of exposure - they import a lot of US and UK media and thus develop an ear for all the various ways English can be spoken early - but when you think of all the high-profile American and English actors who can't blend in nealry so well, it's pretty amazing.)

Wish You Were Here

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 9 June 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

Wish You Were Here pulls off something of a neat trick, even if it doesn't always mean to: The filmmakers might not have anticipated Joel Edgerton and Teresa Palmer getting top billing Stateside (they've each put on North American accents in a few movies here) even though it's star and co-writer Felicity Price that has the spotlight for much of the movie, but the way they slide the focus over to another character deliberate and well-done. It makes for quite the satisfying little movie.

Things start off in Cambodia, mostly presented in as an opening-credit montage of two Australian couples on vacation: Dave (Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Price) are taking a quick break from their two kids along with Alice's younger sister Steph (Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr). When the movie reconnects with Dave & Alice back in Sydney, the fun times of just days ago seem completely forgotten; Jeremy has disappeared and Steph is coming back, feeling like there's nothing more she can do. And it's not long before Alice notices both her husband and her sister behaving strangely.

The question of Jeremy's disappearance is what supplies a fair amount of Wish You Were Here's tension, but Price and director/co-writer Kieran Darcy-Smith don't treat it as a traditional solvable mystery with clues and connections that the audience is going to be able to merge into an answer at roughly the same time as the characters. On a practical level, they can't - the evidence is all in Southeast Asia; what are they going to play detective with? So they find another set of screws to twist that could quite easily connect to the other story, and even if it's not quite clear how, it's dramatic enough on its own.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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