The Movie Waffler Screamfest LA 2023 Review - WHAT YOU WISH FOR | The Movie Waffler

Screamfest LA 2023 Review - WHAT YOU WISH FOR

What You Wish For review
A down on his luck chef unwittingly finds himself tasked with cooking an extraordinary meal.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nicholas Tomnay

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

What You Wish For poster

Too handsome for a character actor, too craggy for a matinee idol, Nick Stahl has spent much of his acting career trying to find his niche. With last year's What Josiah Saw and now writer/director Nicholas Tomnay's What You Wish For, it seems Stahl has finally found his feet, reinventing himself as a modern day Tom Neal. Neal was a star of 1940s b-movies whose good looks were offset by a hangdog demeanour. His most famous role was in Edgar G. Ulmer's noir masterpiece Detour, in which Neal played a down on his luck man who assumes the identity of a dead man only to almost regret doing so when "fate sticks out its foot to trip him up."

Stahl plays a man in a similar situation in Tomnay's film. In debt to loan sharks due to his gambling habit, Stahl's Ryan travels to an unnamed Latin American country to meet up with Jack (Brian Groh), whom he hasn't seen since the two studied at culinary school together 12 years ago. While Ryan has ended up cooking "a lot of roast chickens" in a Dallas chain hotel, Jack is a highly sought after chef, paid considerable sums to give diners an "extraordinary experience" in scenic locations around the world. Passing by his laptop, Ryan sees that Jack has over a million dollars in his bank account.

What You Wish For review

Jack's latest gig sees him staying at a mansion with orders to prepare the produce for an upcoming meal attended by a group of hungry elites. When Ryan expresses his jealousy, Jack swats it away, claiming his life isn't all it appears. Clearly not, as the following morning Ryan awakes to find his friend hanging from the rafters. Rather than calling the relevant authorities, Jack sits down and has a think. Just a fraction of Jack's money could end all his troubles, and it's no good to Jack now, right? Ordering a fake ID from a dodgy dark web site, Ryan begins posing as Jack with the aim of accessing his bank account and paying off the loan sharks whose threats have at this point escalated, claiming they know where Ryan's mother lives.

Before the ID arrives however, Ryan finds himself in the presence of Jack's employers, represented by the business-like Imogene (Tamsin Topolski) and her suspiciously burly assistant Maurice (Juan Carlos Messier). Posing as Jack, Ryan manages to get an advance of $50,000, and is stunned to learn he can earn another $250,000 for cooking the meal. This is no ordinary meal however, and Ryan finds his morals compromised as he seeks a way out of a situation he never could have foreseen.

What You Wish For review

With the set-up in place, the movie's second half centres on the meal in question, playing out like a macabre episode of Fawlty Towers as Ryan juggles keeping himself alive by preparing the menu to his new employers' liking with dodging the questions of a prying police detective (Randy Vasquez) investigating the disappearance of a local man. Topolski's very British portrayal of a social climbing middle manager sees Imogene in the Basil role as she attempts to keep the increasingly fraught situation from exploding. Things aren't helped when a risk-loving guest insists the detective stay for the dinner so he can feed off the adrenalin of the scenario.

Any decent person should be backing the detective, but a good filmmaker knows how to make us empathise with bad people. The shift in identity here is akin to the second half of Hitchcock's Psycho, in which we sweat for Norman Bates as he's probed by prying intruders. Imogene may be evil incarnate and Ryan might have compromised his morals in the worst fashion possible, but we still find ourselves cringing every time they make a slip-up that might clue the detective into what's really going on here.

What You Wish For review

There's some delicious irony at play here. Ryan finds himself in a nightmarish scenario, yet it also offers him the chance to live his dream of preparing the meal of his life. Stahl brilliantly conveys this duality, swapping back and forth between sweaty desperation and professional pride. Equally cruel and ironic is how it's the working class detective who appreciates Ryan's meal on a level the rich guests seem incapable of. For the diners it's more about being able to speak about the experience at a later time, while for the detective it's solely about enjoying the experience in the moment.

What You Wish For is also a workplace drama and a commentary on the stranglehold our jobs can take over our lives. Injected in the throat with a GPS tracker, Ryan's life is now controlled by his employers. This feeling of being unable to escape a job is one many viewers will empathise with, along with the idea of having to compromise your morals at the behest of your employer. On the other hand there's Maurice, who's just happy to have a job and seems to relish his grisly work. "The reward should match the atrocity," a character remarks at one point. At least Ryan is well rewarded financially for compromising himself. How many workers can make such a claim?

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