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Picks and Pans Review: Wish You Were Here

updated 08/17/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/17/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Joan Didion once said that dialogue should be something characters do to one another. By that standard, to British screenwriter David Leland, conversation is a form of violation, and his ruthless characters are repeat offenders. As co-scenarist of Mona Lisa and sole author of Personal Services, Leland portrays the battle between the sexes with the expert eye of a war correspondent: He can pinpoint the import in the smallest skirmish. For this directorial debut, Leland invades territory claimed by such British playwrights as David Hare and John Osborne. Like them, he finds provincial England a claustrophobic world in which any faintly blithe spirit faces defeat by convention. Through most of this unsentimental movie, Leland's recurrent image is simple and ghostly—his heroine sitting curbside with a World War II gas mask over her face. In her case, it's cultural suffocation she's worried about, which is all the more compelling because she's only 15. "I'm bloody bored," announces Lynda frequently. Wish You Were Here chronicles Lynda's sexual coming of age in the early 1950s in seaside England. But in welcome contrast to Hollywood's teen movies, this film doesn't flinch at the dark consequences. As its ironic title suggests, this is a corrosive portrait of adolescent yearning. Where another movie might soften, this one hardens its heart. Looking for love, Lynda finds it with her father's middle-aged friend, played by Tom Bell. As Lynda, newcomer Emily Lloyd, 16, makes an astonishing impression. Redhaired and resilient, she's bound to evoke comparisons to Molly Ringwald, though she's more the soul of a young Stockard Channing. There's an ache behind her animation. As Lynda acquiesces to a seduction, Lloyd's performance has a precision and spontaneity that makes an audience feel as if it were watching the most intimate of home movies. Wish You Were Here provoked a well-earned uproar at Cannes earlier this year. It haunts. (R)

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