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What You Wish For movie review (24)

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Jack has to drive into town—he’s bought a junk car, deliberately, for obscure reasons (at least at first) to conduct his shopping trips with—and Ryan idly looks at Jack’s laptop and discovers the guy’s got a relatively massive bank account. He asks his buddy about the gig he’s on, and he offers his services as a sous-chef. Jack shrugs that off and later complains that he’s working for “the worst people in the world.” This confounds Ryan a little bit. With this kind of money, in these kinds of settings, what can be wrong?

Well, Ryan finds out, and this is where this reviewer encounters a quandary. Now, if you’re keen on guessing the deal, it might be easy—a friend did it at lunch the other day. The thing was, he was joking. The revelation may strike some as slightly risible, at least. One of the things that makes the movie work is that it acknowledges this fact but then makes the premise terrifyingly credible. The movie’s title, “What You Wish For,” adapted from a familiar adage, implies a variation of a “Talented Mr. Ripley.” Ryan envies Jack’s circumstances without first appreciating that their origins are in something far gnarlier than a patrician trust fund. Once the realization sets in, Ryan’s terror turns to desperation and, even scarier, resignation.

Stahl’s acting has always had a quiet power, communicating roiling emotional distress under an often vaguely menacing stillness. This gives a fresh perspective to Ryan’s eventual impotence as he negotiates his new identity—because Jack indeed leaves the picture about a quarter into the film—and tries to please his very particular clients, fronted by the ever-so-polite Imogene (Tamsin Topolski).

Again, without overtly giving too much away, because this is the choice I have made, much of the movie has the kind of suspense reminiscent of the scene in Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in which Norman Bates is dumping Marion Crane’s car, with her dead body in the trunk, into the swamp behind the Bates Motel. It sinks steadily for a while, then stalls, and we gasp. And we wonder, why are we gasping? We shouldn’t really be rooting for Norman here, but we do. So it is with Stahl’s Ryan. Who, the movie continues to insist throughout, happens to be a damn deft chef.

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