What You Wish For


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

What You Wish For
"Elegantly styled and smoothly delivered, the film takes a hard look at corporate culture." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

Ryan (Nick Stahl) and Jack (Brian Groh) haven’t seen each other for 12 years, since they use to share a flat when they were at culinary college. Life has taken them to very different places since then. Ryan is struggling to get by and pay off serious debts. Jack is being flown to exotic locations around the world to cook special meals for ridiculously rich people. Odd as it may sound, neither of them is happy; they both wish that they could swap places. Jack does not know, however, that – par for the course for a Stahl character – Ryan has someone scary on his tail. And Ryan does not know just what makes Jack’s special meals worth so much money.

As each secret is revealed in turn, Nicholas Tomnay’s sharp-edged black comedy shifts gears uncomfortably. Throw in a flirtatious Australian traveller (Penelope Mitchell) and a highly observant local detective (Randy Vasquez), and the stage is set for trouble. But trouble is something which the agency handling Jack is used to. Once he’s out of the way and Ryan has stepped into fill his shoes, they move in to ensure the smooth running of their event. Imogene (Tamsin Topolski), with her prim English accent and the sort of wardrobe which allows the wealthy to admire her without feeling threatened, runs Ryan through the order of business and makes it very clear what will happen to him if the gourmet experience falls short of expectations.

Elegantly styled and smoothly delivered, the film takes a hard look at corporate culture, and although it sometimes over-eggs the pudding, it should go down well with most audiences. Having established his central idea, Tomnay commits himself to it fully. There are thriller elements but the dramatic weight of the thing is mostly carried by Stahl, as we observe the way that he digests his experience and tries to regain some measure of control over his life. It’s rare to see him in this sort of role and he acquits himself well. Ryan is by no means a straightforward character, with a lot going on which is never fully explicated, and it’s interesting to see what makes him hesitate in light of what he is able to do with relative ease.

Despite the slickness of the plot, Tomnay takes opportunities where he can to push viewers into the same kind of morally challenging space. Imogene’s well honed speech on corporate responsibility seems horrific in context, so why don’t we react that way to the concept more generally? An early trip which Ryan and Jack take in the battered car which the latter has bought because he wants to blend in gives us a chance to see the stark difference between the lives of ordinary people in the small Columbian valley town and the house on the hill where they are staying. Later, on another trip, Ryan will be accused by two local women of following them. His intentions are not what they assume, but their assertion, and the willingness of the police to follow up on it, ensure that we recognise the humanity of these people – their experiences and values likely have more in common with our own than those of the rich people whom years of cinematic fantasies have taught us to identify with.

Alongside Stahl, Vasquez shines, bringing his own humanity and heart to a film which sometimes risks being too sleek. His presence helps to keep us from slipping into acceptance of corporate values which, regardless of context, may feel comforting and familiar, offering as they do a sort of moral get-out. The detective’s presence challenges the assumption that corporate power is so vast that we are helpless against it, denying us an easy apathy. Perhaps with the same aim in mind, Tomnay leaves a couple of loose threads at the end, inviting us to wonder whether or not we would have the courage to tug at them.

What You Wish For is built upon a slight conceit, with not a lot of flesh on the bones, but it’s well delivered. The final scene sums up its strengths and weaknesses, slightly twee but beautifully acted – Greg Winter also deserves notice for his brief but impressive performance. Less a substantial meal than an amuse bouche offered ahead of an invitation to dig into the global power struggle, the film, which screened as part of Frightfest 2023, will nevertheless tickle your palate.

Reviewed on: 27 Aug 2023
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What You Wish For packshot
A chef with gambling problems flees to a Latin American villa where he assumes another man's identity.

Director: Nicholas Tomnay

Writer: Nicholas Tomnay

Starring: Nick Stahl, Tamsin Topolski, Randy Vasquez, Penelope Mitchell, Juan Carlos Messier, Brian Groh, Ariel Sierra

Year: 2023

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: US

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