Thursday, June 6, 2013

Kieran Darcy-Smith & Felicity Price's WISH YOU WERE HERE: These feeble folk are Patrick White's kind of Australians!

A couple of weeks ago in The New York Times Sunday Book Review appeared a review of the new edition of Patrick White's The Hanging Garden, in which it was noted that White, generally considered Australia's finest novelist, had little good to say about the Aussie populace. In one of his more memorable statements, he noted that Australia is the country that has proven shit can be recycled. Watching the new film WISH YOU WERE HERE, that statement came to mind, for this is one of those movies, the convulsive and well-edited style of which does wonders in masking its rather paltry content and a collection of characters who are, to put it bluntly, not too bright.

If the story, complete with that rather lame set of characters, played out in strict linear time, we would not be half as interested as we are when that tale is broken into shards of memory, complete with guilt, pain and the whole damn thing, along with performances by actors who are quite good enough in their limited roles. Directed and co-written (with Felicity Price, below, who doubles as one of the film's stars) by Kieran Darcy-Smith (shown at left), the film begins with a wealth of tasty visuals that set up the story of two couples -- a husband and wife, her sister, and sis' new boyfriend -- vacationing in Cambodia, from which Southeast Asian country only three of the four characters return home.

What happened and why? Enough hints are dropped into the first minutes of the film -- which shows our foursome in bits-and-pieces action -- to justify a bunch of theories right off the bat. Then we spend the next few post-vacation days, which run into (I think) weeks, living with each of the three remaining characters' grief, guilt and amends-making, even as we see and hear mini-flashbacks that begin, incrementally, to clue us into what has gone on here.

When we eventually find out the answers, that old question, Who are these people? surfaces big-time, and we realize that, due to all the time spent on flashy back-and-forth time frames and editing (which, in fact, begins to seem a little repetitious as the movie wears on), we barely know these people at all. Everything we do know about them has had to do with that vacation and its aftermath. And despite the publicity materials carefully explaining to us "how one misjudged moment in life has the potential to cause everything to fall to pieces," by the finale we note that this has hardly been a single misjudged moment, but rather, say, 23, 35 or, hey -- maybe even 48 of 'em.

Would you choose Cambodia for your vacation (yes, it's relatively close to Australia), considering that the little country has a stark modern history of self-inflicted genocide, mass murder and near-extinction. (Our foursome even visits the famous museum-of-the-dead, though they seem to give it about the same amount of time and thought that they spend on the other tourist attractions they view -- like those spiders, above and at right.

And of course, when moneyed white men go traveling in non-white countries, they'll seek out those out-of-the-way, sleazy native bars in which to have a drink. And if you earned your living via, shall we say, underhanded black-market schemes, you of course would inform your new friends of all this. And I won't even get near the question of who has sex with whom.  "One misjudged moment in life"? Get real. (Oh, and get over the coincidence of someone being in exactly the right/wrong place at exactly the right/wrong time to finally answer the big question.)

Well, the actors get real, at least, and their performances go a long way toward making us buy this guff. Joel Edgerton (above and above) plays hubby to Ms Price's wifey, and both get to show off their joy and humor and anger and sex appeal. As the wife's sister and her new boyfriend, Teresa Palmer and Antony Starr (below) have less to do but handle it well enough.

So I'm of two minds about this movie: I liked it on one level, for its tapestry-like construction of past and present, but also found it not very believable – unless you are willing to almost entirely suspend your disbelief. Overall, I am leaning toward labeling the movie hogwash -- but artistically done hogwash, indeed!

From eOne films and running 93 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, June 7, in New York City at the City Cinema Village East, and in the Los Angeles area at the Landmark NuArt -- where actress and co-writer Felicity Price will appear in person on Saturday, June 8 for a Q&A after the 7:30pm show. The film will also be opening Friday, June 7, at Landmark Theaters in the following cities: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco, Washington DC, Minneapolis and Denver. Click the Landmark link above to learn which theaters.

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