Wish I Was Here

One pronoun and verb tense away from getting sued by Pink Floyd. Zach Braff, Josh Gad, Academy Award nominee Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin star in Wish I Was Here.

Wish I Was HereCast of Characters:
Aidan Bloom – Zach Braff
Anthony – Donald Faison
Noah Bloom – Josh Gad
Tucker Bloom – Pierce Gagnon
Janine – Ashley Greene
Sarah Bloom – Kate Hudson
Grace Bloom – Joey King
Paul – Jim Parsons
Gabe Bloom – Mandy Patinkin

Director – Zach Braff
Screenplay – Adam Braff & Zach Braff
Producer – Stacey Sher, Michael Shamberg, Zach Braff & Adam Braff
Rated R for language and some sexual content

Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is an unemployed actor, desperate enough for any role that he’s willing to take bit parts on series on Syfy. Although his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is currently enduring sexual harassment advances from a coworker at the L.A. Water Department, she’s the bread-winner in the family, and can’t quit. The only reason their children, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King) are still able to attend a private Jewish school is ’cause Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays for the tuition.

However, after Gabe learns he’s dying of cancer, he can no longer pay for the tuition, and the kids are pulled out of the school. Their public school’s in a deplorable state, so that’s when Aidan takes it upon himself to homeschool them.

Puzzling decision for Braff to fund this project through crowdfunding aside (which led to some backlash), Zach Braff (best known as J.D. Dorian from Scrubs) is undoubtedly a charming presence and first showed his talent for filmmaking in the quirky 2004 film Garden State. Ten years later, Braff delivers his second feature film, Wish I Was Here, aka Garden State Redux.

This is the type of film that’s dying to be heartfelt and “indie” (cue the hipster soundtrack to back up the quirky montage now), but as self-congratulatory Braff comes off here, I kept picturing him patting himself on the back while filming this. However, I don’t fault Braff nearly as much for that as I do for co-writing a script (shared with his brother Adam) that focuses more on arbitrary subplots than the core of this story – Aidan’s middle-aged crossroads, all the while dealing with his dying, disapproving father (wonderfully played by Mandy Patinkin).

That’s what I wanted more of, but we keep getting detours – Sarah’s being sexually harassed at work, Grace has a momentary lapse of judgment and shaves her hair off (there’s a brief moment of unintentional hilarity at witnessing her parents’ reaction as if they found her dead in a ditch), and when she’s not struggling with her identity crisis she apparently can’t swim also. Braff’s brother, played by Josh Gad, who obsesses over Comic-Con when he isn’t threatening Miley Cyrus on Twitter, is the most estranged from their father, but there’s hardly enough focus there to care about their situation. That begs the question, is there really a reason to have him in the film?

Come the third act, you start to feel the running time, and that’s solely ’cause since we got all these subplots introduced, Braff has to wrap up each and every one of them.

It doesn’t help matters that Braff’s central character is quite whiny for most of the film, which would be fine and maybe even expected if he wasn’t pushing 40. I’m all for sticking to your dreams like Aidan refers to it, but you’d think he’d at least get a part-time job while he keeps attending all these hopeless auditions (not that it’d matter since his paycheck would probably just end up in the Swear Jar anyway, judging from how full it is). Meanwhile, you’re wondering how someone as clearly long-suffering as Sarah was able to put up with him in the first place.

The two that mostly make this film work are Mandy Patinkin and Kate Hudson. Patinkin shows fine restraint as a father you might think is disappointed in his pipe-dreaming kids, but places the blame on himself. Kate Hudson gives one of her best performances in years. She shares a genuinely heartfelt middle-act scene with Patinkin that reminded me that, when she’s not slumming it up in some hokey chick flick crap, she’s a truly talented actress. It’s just a shame such good work from her is wasted in a not so good film.

There are some effective performances, and certain elements of the story work, but Wish I Was Here tries too hard to be profound with its fortune cookie philosophy and jam-packed subplots that wrap up much tidier than you’d expect them to. Despite the ofttimes self-congratulatory feel, I don’t doubt Braff’s sincerity here. Coming from a man who made Garden State, though, his second feature is a messy disappointment.

I give Wish I Was Here a C- (★★).

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