The Elephants in the Room
Most Westerners gone AWOL in tropical vacationlands turn up sooner or later, but two of every ten disappear for good. In jokey post-card titled Wish You Were Here, 37-year-old Jeremy King (Anthony Starr) is among the latter, to be seen again only in flashback with one or more of the three other Sydney residents for whom he footed the bill but who have returned from "the last paradise" of Cambodia without him.
Kieran Darcy-Smith´s first feature mixes past and present, some few of such shifts adding to our understanding or at least familiarity with the returnees, but many of them merely deepening the mystery. When the solution does come to light, and brings breakdown and possibly reconciliation, the cold facts in and of themselves are not that surprising.
The non-chronological drip-dropping of information and the naturalistic performances are the attractions -- i.e., method and acting -- rather than the story per se. Darcy-Smith´s co-writer wife Felicity Price is the centerpiece as EFL teacher Alice Flannery, mother of a five- and four-year-old girl and boy and noticeably pregnant again. The other two returnees who react to and around her are boat-designer husband Dave (Joel Edgerton), and her fancy-free younger sister (Stephanie McKinney, played by Teresa Palmer) who had convinced the married couple to accompany her and newest boyfriend Jeremy, who illustrates his simple formula for success with cheesy souvenir elephants sold for five times their two-dollar cost.
Alice and Dave are happy with one another and their lot. Shy of middle age and not yet bogged in routine or soccer mom-and-pophood, they are loose enough to leave the kids with grandparents and shop, party, drink too much, smoke marijuana and soak up Southeast Asia sun with the younger lovers. Neither the four pleasure-seekers nor their film story gives a second´s thought to the country´s famous world culture or genocide sites, not here or back in Oz.
But, home again, there is a different feeling, a tension between them that is exacerbated when Stephanie, too, comes back, days later and on the verge of hysteria after grilling by police in Sihanoukville and Foreign Service officials in Australia, for her boyfriend´s disappearance has become national news.
That in a mad moment of beach, booze and boo, Dave was seduced by his sister-in-law comes out early enough. Although the brief sexual encounter is a red herring with regard to Jeremy´s disappearance -- helped along by misleading sequences such as when a car appears to shadow Dave or a foreign student chats with Alice after class -- it is the event that will test Alice and Dave and either break or make them stronger.
Hysteria and paranoia increase, and scenes are repeated with added frames that clarify but little. That tourists need be circumspect where they tread, and with whom, in foreign places where they are out of their metier, and perhaps vulnerable, is a given, a lesson not overdone or even necessarily intended in WYWH, but nevertheless a word to the wise should be sufficient.
It grows apparent that one or more of the three must know more than he or she or they care to reveal, or have at least seen something not now recalled as important. There are crises either of one´s own making or else beyond one´s ken, arising from some unguarded thoughtless moment, that have power to alter and shape the future. Obscuring the fourth holiday maker´s disappearance, and of greater personal weight for the Flannerys, is the infidelity, the result of drink, lust and circumstance. With love, some things can be fixed; others have no remedy.
(Released by Entertainment One and rated "R" by MPAA.)