There's a strong central premise buried inside Wish You Were Here. But what's it buried beneath - indie drama bullshit and condescending narrative sleight of hand - is such a bummer that the good parts of the film can be hard to find.
Four Australians go vacation in Cambodia. Only three return. The film opens with a dazzling montage of the sights and sounds of the Cambodian trip, culminating in the night when the one man disappeared. Then it jumps ahead as two of the remaining three - Dave (Joel Edgerton) and Alice (Felicity Price, who also co-wrote the film) - come home, leaving behind Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) to search for her missing boyfriend. At first they try to get back to normal, but it soon becomes clear that Dave is hiding something, and the stress of the secret fractures their marriage.
That's not a bad central concept, but Wish You Were Here piles extra melodrama on top of that. It turns out Dave and Steph were high on E and slept together, which widens the rift at home. And Alice is pregnant, so you know that this is going to be crassly used to heighten the stakes.
Worst of all, though, is the fact that the film keeps the secret a secret from us. Just as the secret fractures Dave and Alice's marriage, it fractures the movie itself. This isn't The Hangover Part II, where none of the characters remember the insane details of the night, it's just a case of a movie willfully keeping back details in order to deliver a surprise at the end. It's simply cheating, because Edgerton's character does know what happened, and we see most of the movie through his POV.
Price is the stand out here; she wrote herself a meaty, serious role. She has an elegant beauty and strength - so much strength that her stupid decisions in the third act ring truly false. Still, it's a great performance. Edgerton is also strong as the man coming apart at the seams with his secret. It's a slow burn performance, and a strong one. He's especially great in the entertaining flashbacks to the fateful night.
Director Kieran Darcy-Smith, who co-wrote with Price, has made a lovely film - perhaps a little too lovely, as a friend complained it looked like an American Express commercial. With all the extraneous nonsense clipped away Wish You Were Here might have been a strong emotional thriller, but the film as it stands is frustrating. This could have been a good meal, but it's simply oversalted.