wish you were here.
Two years ago, Australia’s Blue-Tongue Films brought two films to Park City but the one that stood out was the crime-thriller “Animal Kingdom,” which earned many accolades and even an Oscar nomination. Now they’re back showcasing the filmmaking talents of Kieran Darcy-Smith and his wife Felicity Price in a drama that plays on the genre standby of foreigners traveling abroad who get into trouble, though handling it in a way that’s slightly removed from the normal scares and thrills that come with genre territory.
Married couple Dave and Alice (Joel Edgerton, Felicity Price) travel to South Cambodia on holiday with her younger sister (Teresa Palmer) and her new boyfriend Jeremy (Antony Starr), a businessman who supplies them with ecstasy so they can have fun at a local rave. We then cut to Dave the next morning wandering through the aftermath of the rave site, clearly recovering from something, then they’re all back at home in Sydney, Australia, except for Jeremy who has mysteriously vanished, leaving the other three having to determine how to handle his disappearance.
Although this sort of premise dates back to films like “L’Avventura,” this is more of slow and heavy drama focusing more on the aftermath of Jeremy’s disappearance than the events leading up to it, while at the same time using a non-linear storytelling method to cut back to moments in Cambodia that may have led up to it. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the Australian film “Jindabyne” which also deals with a vacation gone awry and the repercussions of one’s actions. While everyone tries to figure out what happened to Jeremy, we learn something else took place that night that changes the dynamics of the relationship between the three survivors as they go through various stages of paranoia, mistrust and guilt for their part in Jeremy’s disappearance.
For the most part, this sort of drama relies heavily on the talents of its cast, and having a small and tight cast allows all three main actors to show their stuff, but especially the lesser-known (at least on these shores) Felicity Price, who also happens to have co-written the screenplay with her director husband. While Edgerton is as solid as always and the two of them create a believable couple, particularly in the lighter scenes with their kids, it’s Price who really blew us away playing his pregnant wife having a far more difficult time coming to terms with their last night in Cambodia. As her younger sister, Teresa Palmer gets to show a lot more of her own talents than we’ve seen previously, though much of her performance involves crying over her missing boyfriend.
Besides setting an environment which allows these actors to shine, Darcy-Smith’s brings an artsy cinematic style to the way the film is shot and edited, easily switching gears from the fast-paced world of Cambodia and the slower drama in the present day. Things intensify as it reaches the third act where everything comes to a head and we start learning what happened the night Jeremy disappeared, and that’s really where the film gets a much-needed pick-me-up, leading to a satisfying resolution.
“Wish you were here” is a commendable feature-length debut by Darcy-Smith with three terrific performances, Price being the stand-out. It’s the type of heavy drama that might not necessarily play for mass audiences but the skill of filmmaking and talented cast should bring the film some critical prestige.
Hello I Must Be Going
Directed by Todd Louiso; written by Sarah Koskoff
Starring Melanie Lynskey, Blythe Danner, Christopher Abbott, John Rubinstein, Julie White, Dan Futterman
There are far too many Sundance archetypes we’ve seen over and over again and the 30-something sad sack loser trying to get their life back together is probably up there in the Top 5. This new romantic dramedy from Todd Louiso (“Love Liza”) is about Melanie Lynskey’s Amy Minsky, 35 years old, recently divorced and living at home with her parents. Soon after we meet her, she gets involved in a sexual dalliance with the 19-year-old stepson of her father’s business partner, played by Christopher Abbott, something they both need to keep secret from their respective parents.
It’s hard not to feel as if we’ve seen this movie before with just slightly altered situations such as the gender of the lead character. Therefore, it takes some time for us to really get into the swing of things and start caring about these characters, which is probably the film’s biggest problem.
Actress Melanie Lynskey, last seen at Sundance in Tom McCarthy’s “Win Win,” is highly enjoyable in this role, having an incredibly expressive face that makes the most of every moment, and she does a lot to make this character likeable as it goes along, helped by her romance with Abbott, a newcomer who does a decent job holding his own against Lynskey. While slightly awkward at first, their romance is handled in a way that’s not too overly cute, and it’s a shame when they’re apart for what seems like most of the second half of the movie.
Blythe Danner is a real piece of work as Amy’s mother, just the worst mother one can possibly imagine, something that’s worth more than a couple laughs as she finds new ways to humiliate her adult daughter. These are countered by some of the film’s strongest dramatic scenes between Lynskey and John Rubinstein as her father, the one parent who has remained compassionate and understanding despite his daughter’s issues.
First-time screenwriter Sarah Koskoff, Louiso’s wife who acted in his first movie and produced his second, makes many of the mistakes one might mistake with a first-time writer, and there’s nothing that spectacular about the dialogue. For whatever reason, there are F-bombs thrown into the mix throughout the movie. So many in fact that it makes one think it’s done merely to try to spice up the laughs since apparently saying the F-word is funny. Maybe, but not when used so frequently and gratuitously as it is here.
There are certainly a few good laughs and a couple strong dramatic scenes, but Louiso seems to have little concept of pacing a movie to best effect, which is why some scenes seem needless–such as Amy’s bad blind date–and even some of the more pivotal moments go on far too long like Amy’s encounter with her ex-husband (Dan Futterman). Overall, the whole film feels so twee and precious with the soundtrack of cutesy “Juno”-like indie tunes not doing much to elevate the material.
Though the movie could definitely be improved upon with tighter editing and be better off for it, the potential being squandered to go for obvious laughs is disappointing to the point where Amy’s situation ends up being more sad than funny. In fact, when the funniest parts of your movie are the Marx Brothers clips shown (hence the title) then you know that you’re doing something wrong.
Although Amy’s arc ends in a satisfying place, it takes so long to get there with so many of the situations seeming like trite “how to make a Sundance movie” clichés, it’s hard to fully appreciate it just for Lynskey’s performance, which is often it’s one saving grace.