Disney movies have conditioned us to associate making wishes with something whimsical and dreamy. Something innocent. A playful mermaid who yearns for the legs to let her amongst the landlocked humans, a trapped princess in an immaculate courtyard who daydreams about living a common life of freedom, a wooden boy who just wants to feel real – these are all fairly innocent little fairytales. When you grow up watching stories like these, it starts to seem like only good things can happen as a result of having your will done. What they don’t tell you is that using magic always comes at a price. Wishing upon a star may bring temporary bliss when your innermost desires are granted, but toying with the fates creates a rift in the universe, and that must be answered for – and sometimes, that means in sacrifice.
In the film Wish Upon, Joey King plays sweet and shy high school student Claire, a good girl with a dark past who wants what all teenagers want – to feel normal. The popular kids pick on her, the boy she’s head-over-heels for doesn’t even notice her, and to top it all off, her father (Ryan Phillippe) can’t help but embarrass her. Just when it seems like Claire is doomed to a life of mediocrity, suddenly, a magical music box lands in her lap. Little does she know, but Claire’s whole life is about to change. With each wish she whispers to the music box, she inches one step closer to the life she’s always envisioned. However, although it may seem like all of her dreams are finally coming true, she’ll soon discover that altering the fabric of reality has only encased her within a hellish nightmare, and the wishes she’s had granted must be paid for in blood.
“If you had a genie and three wishes, what would you do?” inquires Ryan Phillippe as he sits inquisitively on the couch, eyebrows arched, a curious grin painted on his face. “I think that’s something in pop culture and entertainment that we are frequently confronted with, and so I think that stuff is just fun to think about too. I like the dark side of it. She starts off as just this kind of average high school girl, who is very sweet and well intentioned, and the power that comes with this box and the greed that engenders within her actually changes the fiber of her being and the choices that she makes. The seductive nature of the power and the box means that even when she realizes the negative effects that it has and that it’s taking people and killing people, she’s addicted to it, and she can’t stop. It’s similar to that addiction that we find so often in society now, with Instagram and all of these other things, of comparing yourself to other people and being addicted to these things that you believe that you need that aren’t real, and there’s an element of that that I find very interesting.”
Phillippe, who plays Claire’s father in the film, understands the perils that come with wishing for trivial items in the name of being better than our peers. Just as we’ve all become addicted to our phones, obsessing over the amount of “likes” we get on each post, foolishly putting social platforms on a pedestal, so too, does Claire become wrapped up in the opinion of others, and opts to use her new box to her advantage. Compulsively granting self-serving wishes in the same selfish manner as an addict who lies to themselves for the thousandth time that this really is the last time they’ll ever touch a dangerous substance again, Claire knows her loved ones are paying the blood price in order for her wishes to come true, but she still can’t stop making wishes. She can’t curb her addiction to the magicks.
“There’s a certain point where she’s told exactly what’s happening and why, and she still can’t leave it alone because of what it potentially offers her and how she thinks that’s going to fix everything in her life,” explains Phillippe of Claire’s caving to the power of the music box. “Everybody it seems these days are wanting more than what they have and no one’s happy with what they’ve got.”
According to Phillippe, the real villain in this film isn’t the box itself, which acts as more of a McGuffin, but rather, the idea of comparison. Our tendency to stack ourselves up against the competition is the real killer, both in the movie and in our real lives, too.
“Comparison is the thief of life,” Phillippe muses, “So as soon as you start to say ‘I don’t have what that person has’, you negate all of the good things. In a way, I think that’s an element of what happens and what Claire goes through. You know, she’s got a father that’s imperfect and embarrasses her, but clearly loves her and clearly would sacrifice for her. She’s a healthy girl, she’s got people in her life that care about her, but as soon as you start to focus on what you don’t have, it makes all of those other things that are so valuable less valuable.”
Phillippe’s character struggles to be the father that he knows his daughter Claire deserves, but to his credit, he’s done a decent job raising her all on his own. When Claire was a little girl, her mother sadly took her own life, and the effects of her absence have disrupted not only Claire’s life but her father’s, as well.
“Losing his wife has stunted his development as a young man into the age that he is when we meet the character, and he’s not capable of very much other than taking care of his daughter.”
Even when Claire begins wishing for unfathomable riches and lands herself and her father in a lavish mansion, the newfound thrill of the glamour and the lux is short-lived for Claire’s dad, who starts up his same old hoarding habits that he had enacted long before he started living in a giant mansion, and continues long after he moves into the extravagant property.
“The hoarding is very much about control,” contemplates Phillippe of his character’s crazed compulsion. “Losing your wife, and obviously those things would make you feel out of control, and hoarding and wanting to kind of insulate yourself in some ways is somewhat about protecting yourself or feeling like you have an element of control.”
Not everything we desire is within our reach. If presented with the same music box, many people would give into temptation, whether jokingly or not, to see if we can’t get a few wishes granted. Admittedly, it’d be nice to wiggle our noses and get exactly what we want. When it comes to Phillippe, however, he says that there’s not much in life that he hasn’t achieved already by human means.
“I feel lucky in that a lot of the wishes that I’ve had, have come true,” Phillippe reflects. “I don’t know a ton of people who can say that, but I came from very little growing up, like middle-class family, and I would’ve never thought the reality would be that I get to make movies and TV and produce. That was a wish of mine. There was a point in which I wished I could make a war movie with Clint Eastwood, and I got to do that. You know, I’ve been pretty fortunate that way.”
So what’s the biggest wish that Phillippe’s had granted lately? The answer may surprise you.
“Next week I’m going to speak before Congress on behalf of veterans,” Phillippe excitedly reveals. “It’s new legislation that’s going to benefit veterans and their caregivers. Basically, it’s about providing more resources for vets and their caregivers once they come back from combat and after they’ve served. I’ll be speaking in front of Elizabeth Warren and Mark Rubio and I’ll be there with Senator Elizabeth Dole. It’s going to be us sitting there at the same table that Comey was, in the same room” Phillippe exhales and lets out a slight relieved chuckle. “It’s going to be crazy. You know, John McCain, Orrin Hatch, all of them. I have to give a three-page speech, and it’s testimony, it’s basically why I feel it’s important. I’ve spent a lot of time with vets over the last ten years over various projects and all of the organizations that I work for, and so in that way, I get to do things often that are wishes, that like, I can’t believe I get to do. I get to do some pretty crazy stuff.”