Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wish You Were Here, David Leland, UK 1987

Having recently moved to the vicinity of Blackpool, I felt like re-watching some of the films that were shot there, including Funny Bones (Peter Chelsom, UK 1995) and Wish You Were Here. However, as I was to find out, for some reason I had wrongly remembered the latter to be set - and shot - in Blackpool. In fact, the actual town in which David Leland's film is set is never disclosed in the film, but after doing some research I found out that it was actually shot on England's south coast, in Worthing. The main reason, though, why I'd always associated Wish You Were Here with Blackpool is because of the tap-dancing lady, so wonderfully played by Trudi Cavanagh, and just the sort of wacky character you'd expect to find in Blackpool.

Regardless of the non-existing Blackpool-connection, seeing Wish You Were Here again after nearly 22 years was an altogether pleasant experience, for unlike many films which I had not seen in a long time, this one has lost nothing of its appeal, coming along as it does as equally fresh, effortless, and entertaining as I remembered it. Here's one film which has truly stood the test of time!

At the centre of the film is Emily Lloyd's remarkable performance as the precocious, sassy,shopkeeper's daughter who suffers from both, the recent loss of her mother as well as her cold and distant father. Unable to connect with him - let alone evincing any kind of affection from him - Lloyd's Lynda does everything to attract his attention, which eventually culminates in her turning into an enfant terrible, to put it mildly. Merely embarrassed and ashamed rather than alarmed or worried by his daughter's shenanigans, he subsequently rejects and disowns her. 

What could easily have turned into a soppy, sentimental, melodrama drenched in nostalgia, has, in fact, become a timeless, touchingly funny, sometimes even hilarious, coming-of-age story set in the conservative climate of postwar England. Lloyd's tour-de-force - no other word than this rather overused term are apt to do justice to her portrayal - is at the heart of the film. Like her character, Lloyd was 16 at the time of shooting, and Wish You Were Here was her first film. With her innocence and spontaneity she allows Lynda to sparkle while at the same letting her vulnerability shine through. Some scenes in the film are so outrageous and hysterical that I still remembered them vividly even after all this time, and, to be honest, was itching to see them again (e.g. the 'up-your-bum' and the 'Cafe-de-Paris' scenes) . Despite their underlying sadness, these scenes have become camp classics as far as I'm concerned, up there with the Party Scene in All About Eve or the Wire-Hanger Scene in Mommie Dearest. I must admit, though, that watching these scenes again as a man in his forties, I was more able to see the desperation behind Lynda's tomfoolery. Therefore, in spite of all the hilarity, my laughter was tinged with a hint of sadness, sadness also, because throughout the duration of the film I couldn't help deploring the fact that such a wonderful talent as Lloyd's had been put to so little use since. 

Wish You Were Here is available on DVD.