Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wish You Were Here

Sold on the line that the new Australian film Wish You Were Here was this year's Animal Kingdom, we went along to the cinema to see it on Saturday night. While neither film presents a flattering picture of contemporary Australians, Wish You Were Here, disappointingly, was never in Animal Kingdom's league.

Which is not to say it wasn't worth seeing. The film is never boring. Its portrayal of Australians treating Asia as their playground, a place to abandon normal standards of behaviour and spend as much time as possible completely ripped, is probably all too accurate. However, it didn't make the main characters particularly sympathetic. Additionally, I found the plot pretty unbelievable in a number of places. This may merely indicate that I lead a sheltered life, but it seemed unlikely to me that  a couple - one member of whom was pregnant - would abandon their two small children for a week in order to head off to Cambodia for a holiday with a young relative and her boyfriend, who they had barely met. Once there, I was pretty surprised that the pregnant wife seemed unperturbed when her husband decides to indulge in a few recreational drugs. On their return to Sydney, I was even more astonished by some of the decisions taken by the pregnant wife, decisions that I suspected a male scriptwriter might believe in but that most women who have been pregnant would view as fairly unlikely - my sense is that, no matter what your own emotional turmoil may be, when pregnant you never ignore the safety of your unborn child.

The film is well-acted and beautifully shot and it provides a pretty damning indictment of a kind of thoughtless, ignorant hedonism that may be all too prevalent in Sydney - it will certainly confirm everything my Victorian relatives think about Sydneysiders. The trouble is I'm not sure the story of a bunch of extremely shallow people (and, if you don't think they're shallow, how do you explain their equanimity in the face of Gracie's unscheduled appearance, which, after delivering a momentary emotional jolt, appears to leave their lives quite unruffled) really amounts to anything, especially as the ending just dribbles out.


  1. Having seen both films I agree it's not up to the standard of animal Kingdom, but it's still a great film. the characters and story line are believable, the acting is superb.

    I don't agree they 'abandoned' their children, they were left in the loving care of their grandmother. The rationale behind their decision to go was shown in the discussion between the two sisters - one last hurrah before being tied down with three children.

    I got the feeling that recreational drug taking was an occasional part of their life, probably something they both did before marriage and children, and maybe the wife was happy for her husband to let his hair down on holiday while the kids were safely elsewhere.

    As for the wife drinking to excess on their return - you're right it's not something I would have ever considered while pregnant. But the character in the movie was under extreme stress and she was past the most dangerous time for drinking (first trimester). The decision to drive was extremely ill advised but she was beyond making good choices after swilling an entire bottle. I'm not condoning any of her actions, but I do think they were believable in the context of character and story.

    Do you really think they showed equanimity after Gracie was born? I think there was a certain amount of numbness, again understandable. Then the film continued to develop without showing much of the Gracie situation, it didn't need to.

    The husband and the sister were rather shallow and not very likeable but I disagree about the wife completely. Hey, did you like the music? That song that Washington sung at the end was lovely.

    1. I accept all you say about the rest (noting that you are from Sydney) but I stick by my criticism of the Gracie bit - I really thought tat would have been an absolutely huge and dreadful event for any family and it was glossed over. I'm not sure the Australian Vietnamese population will be too thrilled with their portrayal either, not that it's necessarily inaccurate (I don't know). The music was great, visually it was gorgeous. What do you think we were supposed to think of the sister by the way? When she cries, 'What about how I feel?' were we supposed to have any sympathy? I wondered what the history of her relationship with her sister was.

    2. Gracie's birth was premature but she was ok and with the husband erecting the cradle at the end of the film you knew she was coming home. I think the story would have become more bogged down if they put any more emphasis on that particular part of it.
      Totally agree about the Vietnamese thing, it made me very uncomfortable because I was a teacher in Vietnam and have many many friends there. But if a film showed Russian mafia behaving in the same way or Aryan extremists wouldn't Australian Russians and Germans and feel the same way? Someone has to be the "bad guy" I suppose.
      No, I didn't feel any sympathy for the sister. She made a very stupid mistake and thoughtlessly betrayed her sister. but her 'crime' wasn't as bad as the husband's because his actions led to the crux of the plot.
      I view the story as a morality play. Small actions have large consequences. Drinking to excess and/or mixing alcohol with drugs is NEVER a good idea. There's no such thing as 'easy money'. And when in a foreign country - respect the culture, don't push boundaries. Think you've got it made with a successful career, a lovely wife, happy children? Value it every minute of the day, because one minute of stupidity and immaturity on your part and it could all disappear.....
      Excellent film!

  2. Hmm, both films sound fascinating, though giving somewhat depressing views of humanity. Again. (Do people now really never have anything better to do than get drunk, etc?) I say that Magda Szubanski should be in every Australian film, in a kind of Mary Poppins role, leading all the characters back to a sensible existence. I must be getting old.

    1. I wish I knew how to put video onto the computer - the comedy series Magda Szubanski used to be in is full of so many brilliant sketches, not all including her, but all worth spreading far and wide to bring joy not merely to the nation but the world (and, incidentally, I feel the same about New Yorker short stories as you do about current cinema: they always seem to be about joyless souls making hideous mistakes and losing whatever they have that might pass for a soul in the harsh "late capitalist" world)

    2. By the way, Gadjo, would you or your family be able to help me write a message to someone in Romanian - I've just searched for your email address on your blog and profile but I couldn't find one. Mine is zmkc@ymail.com
      Could you send me a message and then I will explain what I need and you will be able to tell me whether it is possible. Many thanks.

  3. Yes, I guess while they've got the word 'late' lodged in all their epithets describing our current stage of civilisiation we needn't expect anything except negativity.

    Recently I managed to download all the episodes of the Big Girl's Blouse comedy show, but then I couldn't play them. I'll get Mrs Dilo onto it - I may have qualifications, but she's the only one here who knows how to work the DVD, washing machine, etc.

    Sure, it woud be a pleasure to help write something in Romanian. I sent you an email to that address - 'ymail' is a new one on me, presumably it's a variant of Yahoo.

  4. Ah zmkc, my views accord almost exactly with nursemyra ... I've just seen and reviewed the film this week too. I agree it lacked the power and tension of Animal Kingdom. That was a very impressive movie.

    However, I liked this one. None of their behaviours are ones I would follow but I found them all believable in the context of the movie - even the drinking during pregnancy though that was the one that pushed my credibility the furthest. I always want to shake characters and say "just talk it over will you!".

    As I wrote in my review, the stereotypes were there --- though I didn't really detail the "bad" Vietnamese other than including the drug smuggling storyline being part of the stereotyping --- but they were there to provide background to the main themes.

    I did find the two main characters sympathetic --- in the sense that I saw them as a couple who seemed to have a strong (though not perfect) love and relationship going and I was sorry to see it being derailed. He was a very naughty boy but the film shows how judgment goes when you choose to drink to excess and do party drugs. (Like poor Diana Grimble on that cruise. People do it and bad things happen.) Whilst I'm no fan of Sydney I wouldn't say it was any more typical of Sydney than other places. What about the characters in The slap? Hmmm... perhaps we won't go there. We've discussed that before haven't we!

    Overall, a good film I thought but I don't imagine I'll remember it with the depth and strength of feeling I remember Animal Kingdom.