The more time I spend curating for this site, the more I realize the futility of establishing a rubric for why a short film works. As I’m the one who wrote this article for the site, I’m fully aware of my own hypocrisy. But, in trying to critically analyze short film (or all cinema for that matter), it often comes down to this: did it move you? Did it stick with you? And, when it comes to Kieran Thompson’s Wish You Were There, the simple answer to those questions is “yes.”
I won’t make excuses for what this film is not. It’s not fast paced (it’s almost defiantly the opposite). It’s not conceptually innovative (the subject matter, which I won’t reveal until a spoiler section below, is quite well-tread). There’s no immediate “hook” or “buy in.” But, somehow, whether it be the subtle but warm performances or the simple, but well-crafted filmmaking, Thompson is able to create something that is quite lovely. I use that word—lovely—deliberately as it captures the graceful way in which the film tackles its central relationship with a delicate nuance that never drifts into sappy Notebook-esque melodrama. It’s a fine line and, although the film flirts with cliché, it never quite tips-toes across it.
I called the “twist” of the film early. And, I don’t say that as a way to humble-brag my intelligence (the converse is often true as I’m the usually a person that is behind a film). Rather, I mention it because I don’t think the film—like so many “reveal” shorts—is dependent on the twist to work. Rather, it’s a subtle and slow build to show how devastating the effects of memory loss can be for a relationship: from the thrilling high of rediscovering the original person you fell in love with to the crushing blow of realizing that person suddenly views you as a stranger. Although there is a weepy moment at the end, it comes not from the person you’d expect (the caretaker), but rather the one with the condition. It perfectly encapsulates the frustration that comes with the powerlessness of the ailment.
The film gets the particulars right: a look of disappointment conveys more than pages worth of dialogue. Is the set-up a bit manipulative? Perhaps. But, again it’s a fine line and I come down on the film effectively being able to evoke emotional resonance.
Wish You Were There was created as a part of a series of shorts made in partnership with the Phoenix Art Museum in celebration of its 60th anniversary. Although the museum’s celebratory year was dampened by COVID (the museum was closed through the majority of 2020), the primary goal of the film series—to represent the broad spectrum of people, art, and experiences at the museum—still comes through.
As Thompson relates to Short of the Week:
“Our writer / producer Chris Heck chose to tell a story of an older couple, a group of people who are always found in museums but whose stories are often overlooked. The museum loved the idea and gave us complete creative freedom to tell the story in our own way, which allowed us to express ourselves without compromise. This resulted in a film that the museum and filmmakers are immensely proud of.”