Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Review Revue: WISH YOU WERE HERE

If you watched THE HANGOVER and thought it would work better as a thriller, then last night’s opening night premiere from Sundance 2012′s World Dramatic Competition, WISH YOU WERE HERE, will be right up your alley. Numerous critics out of Park City, including David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter and Steven Zeitchik from The Los Angeles Times, have drawn comparisons between the blockbuster American comedy about a bunch of buddies who wake up after a night of partying they can’t remember to find one of their ranks missing, and this Australian import from writer/director Kieran Darcy-Smith about two couples who wake up after a night of partying they can’t remember to find one of their ranks missing. In other words, throw in Zach Galifianakis and a Mike Tyson tattoo, and we’re in Todd Phillips territory.

Interestingly, Rooney and Zeitchik also gave two of the more positive reactions to a film that so far has garnered a very mixed response from the Sundance press corps. Rooney describes WISH YOU WERE HERE as “a taut, emotionally charged drama with a first-rate cast led by Joel Edgerton.” He plays David, a married family man who takes his wife Alice (WISH co-writer Felicity Price) on an ill-fated trip with Alice’s sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) and her new boyfriend (Antony Starr). What follows, according to Zeitchik, is equal parts unfunny riff on THE HANGOVER’s twisty narrative structure (wasn’t that THE HANGOVER PART II? — what? C’mon, I had to.) and a serious character study of a troubled husband and wife. “How much each of the characters is morally responsible for what they’re inflicting on the others is equally on the filmmakers’ minds,” he writes. “Edgerton’s Dave, a strong silent type who may know more than he’s letting on, is perhaps the most ambiguous.”

Other critics were decidedly less enamored with the dangling questions, although the consensus seems to be that Edgerton is very good. Over at The Playlist, Todd Gilchrist gave WISH YOU WERE HERE a C rating, calling the performances “roundly terrific” but criticizing a plot that was “at once intriguingly unspecific and maddeningly conventional.” Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson took less issue with the text than the subtext, complaining that “because the film doesn’t have much new to say about male pride, temptation or guilt, the final revelation feels more artificially manufactured than intricately wrought from everything we’ve seen up to that point.” And MTV‘s Eric Ditzian was frustrated by an ending that suffers from “plot holes aplenty” and “a healthy dose of confusion.” I guess one man’s ambiguity is another man’s confusion.

So it looks like WISH YOU WERE HERE’s filmmakers got through Opening Night, but just barely. They probably wouldn’t mind waking up tomorrow with a little memory loss themselves — specifically of the moment they read these negative reviews. Here’s a sampling of what other critics are saying on Twitter.

Twee-views:
“Audience at #Sundance opener WISH YOU WERE HERE, dramatic thriller w/Joel Edgerton, (wisely) applaud film for delivering on several levels.” — Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

“1st Sundance pic was WISH YOU WERE HERE. I admired its style & performances more than the story. Wonderfully shot. Good, not great.” — Jordan Hoffman, About.com

“Buzz is mixed for #Sundance World Dramatic opener WISH YOU WERE HERE. Everyone agrees acting is excellent but some unhappy with clumsy plot.” — Twitch.com

“WISH YOU WERE HERE: Well-acted, but no spur to prick the sides of its intent — and a Haggis-like series of cheap concealments. #sundance” — James Rocchi, MSN Movies

“WISH YOU WERE HERE? Wish I had left. Another film sucks on the festival circuit. Big surprise.#sundance” — Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com

To find out when else WISH YOU WERE HERE is playing, go to Sundance.org.