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With: Felicity Price, Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Antony Starr, Nicholas Cassim, Otto Page, Isabelle Austin-Boyd, Tina Bursill, Wayne Blair, Valerie Bader, Pip Miller
Written by: Felicity Price, Kieran Darcy-Smith
Directed by: Kieran Darcy-Smith
MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug content, brief sexuality and violence
Running Time: 89
Date: 06/07/2013

Wish You Were Here (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Cambodia Connection

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Wish You Were Here is the latest feature from the Blue-Tongue Films collective, a group of Australian writers, directors, actors, stunt men, what have you, that get together and work on each other's films. The earlier features from this group, The Square, Hesher, and Animal Kingdom, have all been excellent, to say nothing of their short films. Now, actor Joel Edgerton has been rising in stature here in the States, and the group's films seem to be getting more and more exposure.

Written by actors Kieran Darcy-Smith and Felicity Price, and directed by Darcy-Smith, Wish You Were Here tells a harrowing mystery story that's more focused on the emotional repercussions of the mystery than the mystery itself (though, don't worry, a solution is provided).

Edgerton and Price star as Dave and Alice Flannery, a hard-working couple with two kids and another on the way. Another up-and-coming Australian star, Theresa Palmer, plays Alice's sister Steph. She has recently begun dating a handsome businessman, Jeremy King (Antony Starr) who frequently works in Cambodia. Jeremy and Steph are going there for a week-long trip, and Steph invites Dave and Alice to tag along.

The movie is told out of sequence, in chunks that flip forward and backward in time. We deduce very quickly that Jeremy never returned from this trip and that he's still missing. Certain scenes indicate that the foursome partied quite hard, and that some drugs were involved. Moreover, Dave seems to be rather edgy lately.

The filmmakers divulge tasty tidbits of information sparingly and at key moments, and they're always unexpected. Better still, each of these reveals deepens the characters and how they relate to one another (I'd illustrate how, but I don't want to give anything further away).

With this emphasis on characters, Darcy-Smith and Price provide a safe and powerful space for these actors to do their best. As an actress, Price really shines; in one scene, Alice takes her kids to visit her mother and must pretend that her world is not falling apart; she's fighting back tears as she lies to her mother and says everything is OK.

Palmer is likewise amazing. In America she has been used mainly as a cute teen, albeit a strong one, and one that tends to stand out from weak material. Here she proves that she's much more than just the next cover girl. And Edgerton keeps growing as well, showing that he has the stuff of a great leading man; he's vulnerable, but not wimpy.

Finally, the movie's textures -- the sounds, colors, and a certain lack of polish -- give the movie a genuine sense of place. The sudden switches between Cambodia and Sydney are perfectly clear, and each has its own sense of temperature and rhythm. You can almost smell the differences in the locations.

These guys, this collective, seem to be going about everything just right. They're telling strong stories with low budgets, and doing it for the love of it rather than the aim of growing more famous and wealthier. But even if I'm wrong and their films get bigger and begin to lose their special qualities, then at least we've got a handful to hang onto.

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