At heart, "Wish You Were Here" is an effective piece about the way secrets can serve as a cancer in a marriage. It's well-performed across the board, it's incredibly well-shot, and I think much of it works in terms of tone and mood. There are some major plot issues that you have to forgive, though, and it might be enough to derail the experience for some viewers.
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, "Wish You Were Here" fractures time to tell the story of a group of Australians who take a trip to Cambodia. During the trip, one of them vanishes, and the rest of them return home to deal with the emotional fallout. Not everyone is working with the same information, though, and little by little, the truth comes out, with some devastating fallout. Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Felicity Price, who also co-wrote the film) are parents, and they step back into this life they've built, with their four-year-old and their five-year-old and another one on the way. Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) was the one who was dating Jeremy (Antony Starr), the guy who disappeared, and she's the one who seems to be most directly affected at first. Gradually, though, Dave and Alice are forced to deal with something unspoken, something that threatens their family, and that's the real driving force in the film.
Edgerton is a really interesting presence, and it's been nice to see him really come into his own as a performer in the last few years. He and his brother Nash Edgerton are partners in Bluetongue Films, the company that produced the film, and I think they've got great taste so far in what they've produced. If you haven't seen their short film "Spider"…
… you're welcome. They strike me as very inventive and driven, and I think they've got an interesting way into some very dark subject matter. Their noir thriller "The Square" is a winner, and worth seeking out. They like to tackle the idea of people pushed to a breaking point and seeing what happens or how they react, and the best parts of "Wish You Were Here" work on that level. Edgerton in particular seems to be slowly crumbling from whatever it is he's carrying around and unable to articulate, and Felicity Price makes a perfect foil for him. Their scenes do a nice job of suggesting a real marriage, with natural stress points that are fine as long as nothing happens to test them. Once they start to fall apart, though, it gets ugly fast, and my favorite moments involve the two of them.
I'm not as sold on a subplot involving Palmer's character. It seems more of a narrative device to me, something designed as a misdirect, and it doesn't pay off the same way. When you can feel something working as a plot mechanic instead of being invested in the way the characters behave and the reality of the situation, it feels like a miss. Still, Palmer's fine with what she's given to do, and it's more just a case where I feel like they could have streamlined the narrative and really made this a very good film instead of the almost that it is now.
More than anything, I walked away liking the general aesthetic of the movie and elements of it, dissatisfied with it as a whole but still impressed enough to give it a gentle recommend. Opening night at Sundance is a hard spot to be in, and I've seen a number of movie just plain lay there on opening night, almost serving as a sacrificial lamb. "Wish You Were Here" is better than that, very nearly successful, and worth seeing for the parts if not the whole. Keep an eye on Blue-Tongue, though, because when these guys finally put it all together, I have a feeling they're going to make something undeniably great. For now, it's interesting to watch them as they continue to warm up.