A hot and colourful twilight tableau takes us through a culture shock on the streets of Cambodia. Four friends are ecstatic – and sometimes hysteric, as they seem to be jeering and throwing their heads back in laughter at everything they encounter – but more ecstatic because they decide, on their last night, to actually take ecstasy pills at a party. The following day Jeremy (Anthony Starr) is missing and the others return to Sydney full of dark secrets.
Thus begins a pretty engrossing experience and an all too familiar (and all the more haunting) tale of Australia’s notorious profligacy in South-East Asia. While our characters are smiling and dancing and laughing on their holiday – the locals are frowning, glaring and merely serving/servicing these Home And Away looking tourists.
Shifting from missing persons in Cambodia pretty quickly, the film concentrates on family deceptions and betrayal. While we long to know the truth of Jeremy’s disappearance, we often forget he’s missing at all with what drama pervades Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice’s (Felicity Price) beachside home.
Edgerton is a natural performer, in particular with children and special mentions go to Otto Page and Isabelle Austin-Boyd – every scene with these kids is candid and organic. The adults are all a bit unlikeable but its hard to know what makes a charismatic Australian personality as Eric Bana’s transcendent turn as Mark Reed was finally surpassed by a dusty Kelpie last year. When our hearts are easily won with underworld criminals, dogs and toilet cleaners – its difficult for us to identify with well-to-do young families living in modern apartments, with alfresco dining, overlooking Bondi beach. It is when Alice visits Jeremy’s parents that we are reminded that he belonged to anyone (as Steph – played by Theresa Palmer – had only just met him) and we find again another reflection of helpless parents fearing the safety of their children. Lost? Or mixed-up? Or locked-up in foreign prisons?
All but Alice (due to her pregnancy) took ecstasy on that final night in Cambodia, but each separate, subsequent action would affect the unit collectively. The clear lesson here is: stay away from drugs.
Wish You Were Here is a finely structured film about sticking together, whether looking for cheap thrills in South-East Asia or balancing parenthood, work, and love in the aftermath of trauma.
* a version of this post originally appeared at filmblerg.com