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Wish You Were Here (David Leland) 1987


    Because of similar settings explored from youthful points of view, David Leland’s insightful comedy Wish You Were Here almost feels like a companion piece to another 1987 British period piece, John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. While Hope shows the effects of the London blitzes on a young boy’s family, Wish looks at a teen girl’s experience a few years after the war. Both are observed with a sort of period detail and introspective character study that’s all too rare, but where Boorman’s film generally focuses on the explosive emotional heights and traumas that came with the attacks, the feisty feelings in Leland’s movie come mostly from within Lynda (Emily Lloyd), its sassy, outspoken protagonist. A bit too blatantly sexual for anyone’s comfort, Lynda is a unique, but fundamentally honest comic conception. Her consistently foul mouth (her catchphrase is “Up your bum!”) is a trait that she’s had since her childhood, but with the advent of her womanhood, it seems to become a problem. The dirty words she’s been using have always been just words, but as she’s discovering the meaning of them and they’re being said by a person who’s becoming ever-increasingly more sexual, they’re taking on a new sense of power, which is specifically, the power to make grown men squirm.


    Leland offers a psychological background to justify Lynda’s behavior in her otherwise stiff-lipped British seaside town, but not much of it has the sort of melodramatic impact that he intends, perhaps because her actions are so completely understandable. Most kids, if not tightly reigned in, would be as extroverted and blunt as she is. It’s a testament to the quality of Emily Lloyd’s winning performance that almost all of her whims and provocations feel completely spontaneous. In any case, justification for Lynda hardly matters, since the set pieces Leland devises are rather inspired, and it’s the chuckles and not the crises that power the film. The bit where she visits a psychiatrist or the scenes where she berates her patrons at a restaurant while taking their orders are filled with a priceless peppering of profanity that perfectly captures the feeling of naughtiness that goes along with using a cuss-word when you’re a kid (as well as the repressive adult retribution that usually follows such an outburst). At times tremendously funny, but never humorous at the expense of its emotional core, Wish You Were Here is simultaneously nostalgic and in direct opposition to the way that nostalgia tends to coat the past with a layer of sugary sweetness. That it manages to sway between the two, presenting both attractive landscapes that could pass for vacation photographs and moments of trembling awkwardness that one would most likely wish to forget, is perhaps its greatest strength.


* * * 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman