"WISH YOU WERE HERE" is the latest offering from British filmmaker David Leland, who cowrote "Mona Lisa" and penned the bawdy "Personal Services." It's a colorful but overdrawn coming-of-age story about Lynda, a young lady with a likeable, vulnerable promiscuity, who is tethered to the frigid consciousness of a British seaside town in the 1950s.
Leland draws Lynda's portrait with loving relish; his enthusiasm for her contagious. And exuberant first-time performer Emily Lloyd is delightful in the lead role. She's both grace and gusto as the girl who likes to excite men -- by cycling with skirts gathered high, asking them out to the flicks, and spurting profanities with a childlike innocence. But she's also the bane of her straitlaced father's existence; he considers her an incorrigible tart.
Her route to fulfilled sexuality is a troubled one. She encounters horny little boys with premature problems, the gossipy tut-tutting of old British marms, and a rather seedy affair with a greasy projectionist Eric (played by Tom Bell, a veteran of British early 60's films), who's as old as her father. Eric gets her pregnant but she refuses to abort the child. When it's born, she perambulates it through town with defiant pride.
While Leland's script is lively with British characters, his theme is growing tired: young spontaneity stifled by tradition-encrusted hypocrisy. We've seen it in "Mona Lisa," "Personal Services," "Withnail and I," Stephen Frears' "Prick Up Your Ears" and "My Beautiful Laundrette."
And he takes cheap shots at the older crowd. The widower father, while reprimanding her lowlife ways, enjoys home visits from a certain Maisie and lets loose at the Freemasons club. When he confronts his daughter in a cafe about her pregnancy, Lynda (now a waitress) stands on a chair screaming, "Hands up those who like hot willies," and calling a shocked customer an "old bag." We're supposed to admire her Lawrentian forthrightness, but it just makes you sorry for the old codgers trying to enjoy a nice cuppa.
Leland has also made a bad script call in mating Lynda with projectionist Eric. Two outcasts drawn together, because they both seek an intimacy lacking in their lives, seems justifiable on paper. But it's nauseating to watch a greasy old man using a girl. But thankfully, she eventually rejects him in favor of the only ally she can depend on -- herself.
WISH YOU WERE HERE (R) --
At the West End.