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What You Wish For Review: Undercooked Chills

A chef turns his head toward the camera in the film WHAT YOU WISH FOR

What You Wish For gets by with a great lead performance, but a surface-level exploration of its themes brings things down.

Director: Nicholas Tomnay
Genre: Thriller
Run Time: 101′
US Release: May 31, 2024
UK Release: TBA
Watch What You Wish For: in theaters & VOD

In the system of capitalism, it’s hard to get by without hurting those around you. To have all the money in the world or to be the best in a field of work, ethical boundaries must become blurred as profit and financial stability take priority. While we may believe we have enough cruelty and coldness within us to achieve our goals, how true can this be when we’re confronted with an evil act that’s also loaded with more money than we can ever dream of?

Nicholas Tomnay’s What You Wish For is a dark thriller that explores one man’s craving for success and the darkness that comes from being number one.

What You Wish For follows Ryan (Nick Stahl, of What Josiah Saw), a chef with a severe gambling issue. After leaving town in a hurry, Nick takes refuge in a Latin American country with his friend Jack (Brian Groh), another chef who lives in a lavish home thanks to a lucrative business opportunity. As the two catch up, Ryan finds himself questioning how Jack can afford such a grandiose lifestyle and slowly lets his own jealousy take over him. When a shocking incident rocks Ryan’s world and has him taking on his friend’s identity, he soon discovers just how far he has to go to get what he truly wants.

The character of Ryan is one of many facades and the key to understanding how What You Wish For wishes to explore and condemn its central targets. While finding some success as a chef, his gambling problems begin to overshadow this as death threats and blackmail form a dark cloud over his life. At the core of Ryan is a man whose dream of success is the very thing that also brings him down. Sure, he’s ambitious and talented enough within his field to make some moves within the industry, but the allure of gambling and the chance of even more success quickly becomes a key part of his own downfall.

A woman stretches her hand with her palm up toward a man dressed as a chef, inside a restaurant, in the film WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Nick Stahl and Tamsin Topolski in WHAT YOU WISH FOR, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

There’s a very exhaustive and heavy tone to how Nick Stahl presents Ryan throughout the film. He’s a tired soul but one who’s still looking for that next opportunity to greatness. His eyes, when wandering around these lavish spaces, show someone jealous but committed to getting what others around him already have.

On a surface level, much of What You Wish For welcomes discussion and intrigue about what it chooses to explore. On top of this, there’s a lot of undeniable tension packed within Tomnay’s script that allows the film to keep moving as both a thriller and a thematic drama. In many ways, it comes together as a very competent and sturdy film that takes on a simplistic attitude. However, this focus on a simple “meat and potatoes” story also leads to What You Wish For not adding enough creative ideas to the table. It’s another “eat the rich” tale that primarily operates on an overly familiar hum to many films that came before it. How it portrays those familiar beats can be exciting to watch at times, but, in the long run, it makes the film feel far more derivative than bold and fresh.

What You Wish For isn’t the first, nor will it be the last to narratively explore a condemnation of the rich. The concepts of capitalistic and personal greed and the sadistic control of power are always fascinating ideas for cinema to explore. However, while these themes are explored finely within this film thanks to Nick Stahl’s strong performance, it’s hard not to wonder what the results could’ve been had director and writer Nicholas Tomnay chosen to go a little deeper beyond the surface level.

What You Wish For: Trailer (Magnet Releasing)

There’s a visceral idea within the film’s narrative that has enough potential to be particularly powerful in execution, but the result is something a little safer and, unfortunately, less interesting than it could be. For those who enjoyed films like The Menu or Parasite, there should be enough here to satisfy those watching, but for those looking for something a little bolder and original, they may be disappointed with the end result.

Get it on Apple TV

What You Wish For will be released in US theaters and on VOD on May 31, 2024.

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