Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Uncertainty, or the feeling of it, is the central force in Wish You Were Here. The movie wants you to constantly question whether or not its main man (Joel Edgerton) is a villain…or just a guy who makes exceptionally dumb decisions. And as long as you give a damn about Edgerton’s welfare, the movie works pretty well.
It’s also out of Australia. I mean, how many Australian movies does a movie lover see a year? To me, Wish You Were Here is almost worth watching for that reason alone. But be warned: the beach-envy inspired by this movie is considerable, perhaps rage-inducing for some Minnesotans.
The story sets up like this: Two handsome couples go on vacation in Cambodia. They shop. They take ecstasy. They lie on the beach and philosophize in the sand. One guy, a charismatic businessman named Jeremy (Antony Starr), says that if he had to stay in one place for the rest of his life, he’d stay in southeast Asia. And Jeremy does pretty much that; he goes missing in Cambodia.
When the three other vacationers — Dave (Edgerton), Dave’s wife (Felicity Price) and her stunning, blonde-and-bronzed sister (Teresa Palmer) – return to Australia, they’re pretty down. Not only are they home from vacation, but they feel bad about losing Jeremy and not having a clue about what happened to him. Then a bunch of weird stuff happens.
Almost immediately, Dave drops a bombshell on his wife: that he slept with her sister while in Cambodia. Whatever good came out of that vacation is instantly annihilated in that hydrogen-bomb-level revelation. But family issues — Did I mention his wife is pregnant? — aren’t the ones suffocating Dave’s conscience. He’s got shady characters following him around in sports cars to deal with and Australian FBI types are trying to track him down.
Because what the hell happened to Jeremy? That’s the big question, right? But instead of revealing the mystery bit-by-bit, the movie just lets the weight of the question mark squish the drama. We watch as the characters squirm and deal with conflicting urges and emotions — to be honest or safe, to despair or take action, to reconcile or leave.
I won’t spoil the end, but I will say that it’s impossible to guess. That, for me, was annoying. The finale fortified my impression that the movie was a quasi-PSA project– one produced with government funds to warn Australians that (1) vacationing outside of Down Under is dangerous, if not deadly, (2) that drugs are bad, and (3) that failing to fully cooperate with authorities leads to danger and/or the loss of sanity.
But now I feel I’m being too hard on this thriller/who-done-it. Edgerton, for instance, deserves praise in that he’s able to make dumb Dave feel human. And director Kieran Darcy-Smith also deserves a hand for keeping the tension high and the pace moving. I just wish the movie left me with something more than scratch marks on my forehead and the urge to buy plane ticket to Sydney Airport.