The most remarkable thing about “All I Wish,” written and directed by Susan Walter, is the casting — but what a difference it makes for this light romantic comedy. Star Sharon Stone was originally offered the mother role, but convinced Walter she should play the daughter, Senna, instead. So Senna became 46, not 25, and Stone stepped into one of her more winning roles in a long time. With an older woman as the lead, this cute rom-com takes on a greater depth and poignancy than it would have with standard 20-something stars.
“All I Wish” follows the progression of Senna's life every year on her birthday. This structure is an efficient way to mark time and growth (or setbacks). It's a more heightened version of what we all do on our birthdays, touch base with ourselves, compare and contrast where we are now and where we were then. It's an interesting conceit, even if as viewers, we long for the connective tissue that fills in the gaps of time.
Every birthday, we get to see the rhythms of carefree Los Angeles stylist Senna's life. Her friend Darla (Liza Lapira) would describe her as floundering, a little bit lost, a little bit unmotivated, caught in a cycle of younger men and subpar jobs. That doesn't stop Darla from celebrating her friend every year on her birthday, a welcome antidote to the country club lunches Senna shares with her mom (Ellen Burstyn), who gifts her china settings and gentle nagging about marriage.
Darla tries to finagle a set up for Senna with lawyer Adam (Tony Goldwyn), but the two polar opposites get off on the wrong foot. That doesn't stop Darla from trying again next year, and the year after that, until Senna and Adam finally realize they're crazy about each other. They also drive each other crazy, her impulsive nature clashing with his careful, logical way of doing things.
Each birthday is just a small snapshot into a much bigger life story, as Senna copes with her mother's illness, focuses on her career and tries to maintain a relationship, at the same time.
But charting their relationship highs and lows over one day each year, we lose a sense of the magic in what makes Senna and Adam work — we just have to take their word for it, and sometimes the relationship roller coaster we see is a bit too dramatic.
That's why the casting is so key to the success of “All I Wish” — with older protagonists, the stakes are so much higher. Will Senna achieve her dream of becoming a designer? Will she ever find true love and marry? How will she cope with the potential loss of her mother? It adds a layer of richness to the story that would be otherwise missing.
Stone had the right instincts about the part — she inhabits Senna beautifully, and her performance anchors the light-as-air “All I Wish.” It's the perfect role for her to sink her teeth into, sexy and fun, but she brings a sense of real intelligence and soulfulness to the character. That's true star power.
‘All I Wish'
Rating: R for some sexual content and partial nudity
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica