Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sundance ’12: Wish You Were Here

Southeast Asia really is not the wisest place to go on a drug and booze-fueled bender, particularly if you are parents and even more so if you are pregnant. Nonetheless, the Flannerys decides you only live once in Kieran Darcy-Smith’s cautionary tale, Wish You Were Here (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Dave and Alice Flannery have two kids, with a third on the way. Despite her advancing pregnancy they cannot say no when her sister Steph McKinney’s new boyfriend offers to treat them all to a vacation in Cambodia. A sketchy import-exporter, the fast-talking Jeremy King claims he can deduct it all. Evidently, Australia must have quite an indulgent tax code. At first, the quartet has a blast, as the audience can plainly see from the long opening montage. However, only three of them came back. Somewhere along the way, they lost King.

Actually, quite a bit went down in Cambodia that threatens to break their family ties. Since they all assume King’s disappearance involved his stash of XTC, they have trouble deciding just what they should tell the Australian authorities. Needless to say, there are probably lingering dangers from that fateful night they should also worry about.

At times, the Flannerys can just be hair-pullingly dumb. An iota of communication would have spared them so much grief. Still, the slow reveal of King’s fate is rather effective (though the resolution of the mystery is somewhat underwhelming). The Cambodian locales are also quite cinematically exotic and seedy. Yet throughout Wish, it is impossible to shake the notion the Flannerys got off easy. Haven’t they seen Midnight Express? Drug use in a less than transparent country is usually a distinctly bad idea.

Poised to succeed Russell Crowe as Hollywood’s favorite square-jawed Australian, Joel Edgerton definitely has the right intense screen presence and everyman quality for Dave Flannery. Granted, it is a stressful set of circumstances, but Felicity Price’s Alice Flannery often comes across as somewhat overwrought and irrational. In contrast, even though he draws the short straw, Anthony Starr is rather memorably dynamic as the ill-fated King.

Wish is a serviceable thriller-slash-family drama, but it holds no real surprises in store for viewers. It probably will not do much for Cambodian tourism either, even though the beaches look inviting. Not a special priority, Wish screens tonight (1/21) in Odgen and this coming Wednesday (1/25) and Friday (1/27) in Park City, as this year’s Sundance swings into high gear.