Susan Walter’s All I Wish charts the emotional ups and downs of Senna Berges (Sharon Stone), a fortysomething fashion designer and perpetual hot mess, over the course of six consecutive birthdays. The decision to have the entire film unfold solely on Senna’s various birthdays offers a potentially refreshing reprieve from the conventional narrative structure of the average romantic comedy, but in the end it’s little more than a gimmick that unintentionally makes it seem as if all of Senna’s major life events only happen on her birthdays. As we jump from one birthday to the next, we never get a sense of how, say, Senna arrived at a certain philosophy about life and love that flies in the face of views she displayed just a year earlier.
That sense of disconnection is only intensified by the gratuitous direct-to-camera confessionals from various characters that preface each of the film’s segments. The effect of these confessionals is as jarring as those throughout Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna. But the Brechtian interruptions of Bergman’s film allowed the four main actors to discuss their emotional and psychological connections to their roles in ways that enhance the audience’s understanding of the characters’ inner states. By comparison, All I Wish’s confessionals are scarcely metatextual, as they serve no purpose other than to allow each character to inelegantly spout thoughts and feelings that could have been more organically incorporated into the narrative.
Writer-director Susan Walter’s film is almost determined to disprove the causality of social phenomena.
As the film dutifully moves from one year to the next, Senna is repeatedly pitied by her best friend (Liza Lapira) for never having a lasting relationship, scolded by her mother (Ellen Burstyn) for not taking herself more seriously and turning away prospective mates, and chastised and eventually fired by her boss (Famke Janssen) for being too quirky and esoteric in her fashion choices. It’s as if everyone conspires to ensure that Senna’s birthdays are as stressful and tumultuous as possible. And it would appear to work, as Senna seems to break up and reconcile with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Adam (Tony Goldwyn), as if on a loop that plays out only once a year. But rather than make these events feel indicative of Senna’s everyday grind throughout the course of the year, All I Wish suggests there’s a stability to its protagonist’s life that, for no particular reason, is always disrupted on her birthday.
In one part of the film, Senna decries the institution of marriage, and in another she screams at Adam for wanting to move in with her but not asking for her hand in marriage. And then, just a few scenes later, she’s again waffling in her commitment to him. Some of Senna’s inconsistent and wildly varied behavior can be chalked up to her general frivolity. But All I Wish seems almost determined to disprove the causality of social phenomena. It elides psychological complexity at all costs, simply to serve the narrative twists and turns of its ostensibly whimsical portrait of a woman’s midlife crisis. What’s lost is a sense of all the things that, during the 364 days between each of Senna’s birthdays, might clarify or expound on her wild and at times inexplicable personality swings. As such, she comes across less as an actual woman than a random amalgamation of quirks being passed through the wringer of a predictably over-the-top rom-com character arc.