Three Wishes

(Martha Coolidge, USA, 1995)


Where To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995) makes some viewers fondly recall The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Three Wishes brings to mind another contemporaneous Australian film, John Ruane's That Eye, the Sky (1995).

Although the setting is sleepy suburbia rather than the harsh outback, the basic premise is the same: a drifter (Patrick Swayze), whose identity and motives are ambiguous, drops in on a dysfunctional family.

The year is 1955. Where the father of the family in That Eye, the Sky is in a coma, here he is missing in action during the Korean war. That leaves a plucky but vulnerable and slightly sexually frustrated mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), and two kids beset by fear and illness.

The drifter is quite a character: bohemian, poet, soldier, mystic and possibly an ex-baseball star. In a bizarre and fairly humorous detour into the sports genre, Swayze takes over the local children's baseball team and leads it to victory by teaching the kids Zen principles of meditation and philosophy.

The trailer for Three Wishes makes it seem as though Swayze also has supernatural powers – but no, those magical gifts actually belong to his wondrous dog. In another curious echo of That Eye, the Sky the youngest boy in the family (Seth Mumy) experiences, at the dog's behest, mystical visions that no one else sees.

The career of director Martha Coolidge has seen far better days (Rambling Rose [1991], Joy of Sex [1984]). She warms to the downbeat, women-in-suburbia aspect, but Three Wishes inexorably becomes the full Spielbergian nightmare, full of gooey, redemptive triumphs and impossible miracles.

By the end, I found myself unexpectedly pining for the ambiguities and hard edges of Ruane's version of the archetypal mysterious-stranger tale.

MORE Coolidge: Crazy in Love

© Adrian Martin February 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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