A few really interesting ideas bubble through "Three Wishes," so it's a pity the film itself isn't more interesting.
Its best thing is a quietly revisionist re-creation of 1955 that shows not merely the sentimental vision of a happy, well-ordered world but almost subversively suggests the oppressive climate of conformism that made sure that world was so well-ordered.
Director Martha Coolidge stresses primary colors, prim little houses with neat yards, men in bermudas and dark socks, family cookouts and a male society so impervious to its female partners as anything but extensions of their own egos as to be almost comical.
This isn't quite cheap hindsight, condescending and unimpressive, because Coolidge's vision never veers toward satire. Things just feel quietly wrong.
Set in flashback by a self-pitying adult, Tom Holman (Michael O'Keefe), who faces business ruination, it follows as the young Tom, his mom and younger brother tried to come to terms with the seeming death of their father and husband, an Air Force aviator in the just-concluded Korean war. The neighbors are "helpful" and a young businessman seems set to inherit the mantel of the fallen father.
But Coolidge, and the cast, are able to suggest that somehow this outcome is being imposed from outside rather than being felt from the inside. It's a mark of the film's excellence that not only are the details right, but the performances are first-class. The young family is well-played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Joseph Mazzello and Seth Mumy. But the movie's about to veer off in an odd direction.
Accidentally hitting a hitchhiking drifter, Jack McCloud (Patrick Swayze), Jeanne Holman (Mastrantonio) insists on inviting him home to mend. But when, in strict contravention of the mores of the time, she invites him to move in, the movie goes a little nuts.
If you can get past that, what follows is quite interesting. Swayze may be a figment of the imagination or an angel or the first hippie, but what he stands for is the spirit of the '60s at its sweetest: non-competitive, non-aggressive, non-conformist, compassionate and open.
Naturally, everybody hates him. It is 1955, after all.
The longer the movie goes on, the less interesting it becomes, and when it finally veers toward mystical nonsense, it begins to annoy. Swayze is very good, though; calm and unruffled, he's an interesting masculine presence who inspires without bullying and puts the '50s type-A guys of the neighborhood to shame, even if the part is a little ridiculous.
Starring Patrick Swayze and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Released by Savoy
** 1/2 TC