Four friends lose themselves in a carefree South-East Asian holiday. Only three come back. Dave and Alice return home desperate for answers about Jeremy’s mysterious disappearance. When Alice’s sister Steph returns to Australia, a nasty secret is revealed about the night her boyfriend went missing.
In the first minutes of WISH YOU WERE HERE the audience is plunged into the story of two young couples holidaying in Cambodia. The experience of travelling and partying in an Asian country is familiar to many Australians. Alice, Dave, Jeremy and Steph are very relatable as middle-class Sydney-siders. You will definitely know people like these folk. The disappearance of one of their number, keys into every urban myth and travel advisory about the “mysterious east.”
A missing person story always has power over the imagination. Jeremy (Starr) has only been dating Steph (Palmer) for six weeks. He’s a charming man who is confident about his ability to make money in Asia. Although she hasn’t known him for long, Steph is devastated by his loss. When she arrives back in Sydney she feels powerless and is angered that neither Australian nor Cambodian authorities are doing enough to find her missing boyfriend. As Steph, her sister Alice (Price) and her brother-in-law Dave (Edgerton) go through the process of piecing together the events leading to Jeremy’s disappearance, it becomes clear that not everyone is telling all they know and that there was more to Jeremy than he had revealed to his girlfriend.
WISH YOU WERE HERE blends a mystery story and a domestic drama. It jumps from one strand to the other and back again. The effect is not wholly satisfactory. I didn’t feel fully convinced of the mystery element nor the reality of the domestic drama. It felt as though each story was taking oxygen from the other, rather than creating a strong mash up of genres. I was left questioning both the answers to the mystery and the state of the relationship between Steph and Alice and Alice and Dave. A film that answers all the questions it raises is not necessarily a good thing–having room to discover or interpret is one of the joys of being an audience member, however I thought there were too many questions left open here.
The film is a technically well crafted. Sydney and Cambodia both shimmer on screen. The performances are mostly good. Starr is best known to Australian audiences from his five seasons playing twins Van and Jethro in New Zealand’s OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE. He makes an impression in a role that by necessity has less screen time than the others. Edgerton is excellent in a couple of key scenes and yet overall is not as compelling as in THE SQUARE (2008) or ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010). Teresa Palmer is adequate as Alice but is notably over-shadowed by the other main cast and particularly by Felicity Price as her older sister.
Price is known from her work in films like WEST (2007) and RUSSIAN DOLL (2001) and for her theatre credits. She and Edgerton play a convincing couple. Price also co-wrote the screenplay with her husband Kieran Darcy-Smith, the director of WISH YOU WERE HERE. This is Darcy-Smith’s first feature as director and it is an impressive debut.
WISH YOU WERE HERE is a slow burn of a movie that has many strengths. It not the movie for an audience that wants to be blown away by a devastating conclusion, rather it is a more subtle experience. It is currently screening in Australia and runs for 93 minutes. I rated it 5/10.