In 2004, Zach Braff shocked the world with the power and his supreme presence as a filmmaker in Garden State. It would be hard to follow up a film like that which has managed to become ingrained into the fabric of pop culture from its riveting subject matter and unforgettable soundtrack.
But, he was working on something all those years. He may have used Kickstarter to get the film financed, but Wish I Was Here is pure Braff, however, is it too similar to his first film?
Braff plays Aidan, a married father of two who is not having the easiest of times becoming an actor in Los Angeles. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports him and their family with her job at a local city utility. Their kids attend one of the best Jewish private schools in the city. Money is tight, but they are getting by so that Aidan can follow his dreams.
Things come crashing down when Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin, The Princess Bride) announces his cancer has come back and that he is unable to support his grandchildren’s private school education because he needs the money for his treatment. Aidan does not respond well -- and we're not talking about the news that his father is dying. He is more upset that his father is breaking his promise to pay for their private school. Now, heaven forbid, they have to go to public school.
See, right off the bat we have an issue here. There’s nothing wrong with a character that is self-involved and can’t see the forest for the trees. But, there has to be a shred of sympathy for us to follow this character along through this two-hour ride that is their story.
Throughout Wish I Was Here, Braff paints his Aidan as a man who deserves to have a shot at his dream, regardless of the cost.
Meanwhile, his brother Noah (Josh Gad) is equally as selfish and in his own way refuses to grow up. He won’t even speak to his father!
Wish I Was Here has many shades of Garden State, from its indie soundtrack and its father-son issues to someone who has to learn to swim and even a scene where Braff’s character has a screaming moment that is meant to be therapeutic. It just all feels so similar, and yet wholly different in not so good ways.
We appreciate the storyline about being Jewish and all that that means, between the kids' education to the counsel that Braff gets from his rabbi. But, that is not enough to salvage this self-indulgent opus from itself.
Braff even completely under-uses three of his co-stars immensely. Hudson is a cardboard cutout of a person. And a side story about her being sexually harassed at work seems like a convenient means to an ends for our wanna-be actor. Patinkin is painted as a stereotypical Jewish father who is old school in terms of religious beliefs, and the esteemed actor does what he can with it.
And then there’s Josh Gad, who marveled us in Frozen and has become one of his generation's premier thespians. But, dressing him up and using cosplay for his penultimate moment with his father that's supposed to be compelling… we just don’t buy it.
Braff is a talent -- that is no question. The fact that tens of thousands of people who have never met him invested in his movie speaks to what people see in him. We just hope -- our Wish I Was Here review points out -- that his future endeavors are less about him, and more about a rich tapestry of a story that we know he can tell.
In the end, you'd be better off to watch Garden State online again than see this film, as much as it saddens us to say that.