WISH I WAS HERE
2014, R, 120 mins.
2014, R, 120 mins.
Zach Braff as Aidan Bloom / Kate Hudson as Sarah Bloom / Joey King as Grace / Pierce Gagnon as Tucker / Mandy Patinkin as Saul Bloom / Josh Gad as Noah / Ashley Greene as Janine / Jim Parsons as Paul
Directed by Zach Braff / Written by Zach and Adam Braff
It has been ten years since writer/director/actor Zach Braff burst onto the movie scene with his novice directorial effort GARDEN STATE, I film that I admired so much that I placed it on my list for the Ten Best Films of 2004. I found that the film intimately spoke to me and towards the general malaise of uncertainty that people of my generation were experiencing at the time…and perhaps still do.
Now, after a
successful and very public Kickstarter campaign – which raised over $3
million from nearly 50,000 people, $2 million of which were raised in just
two days – Braff is back in front of and behind the camera for WISH I
WAS HERE (which he also co-wrote with his brother Adam), and even though
his first film in a decade is a welcome thing, long overdo and a genuinely
heartfelt and personal endeavor, it nevertheless covers ample themes and narrative arcs
that we’ve seen before, like, for example and ironically enough, in GARDEN
is disappointing, to a large degree.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with WISH I WAS HERE being a
spiritual sequel, so to speak, to GARDEN STATE (it’s nice to see Braff
essentially play the same type of character, albeit older and with more
domestic responsibilities), but the nagging similarities between both of
Braff’s films are numbingly obvious.
The main characters in both films are actors struggling to make a
name for themselves and are on the verge of leaving their dreams of succeeding
in the profession behind. Both
films detail the mostly tumultuous relationship between the main character
and his father, which reaches crisis levels of estrangement.
Both films have the main character go on a series of wacky
misadventures to sort through the daily anxieties that they’re
experiencing that stymie them moving forward.
Hell, both films even have quirky and idiosyncratic dialogue and
pop/indie tunes blaring on the soundtrack to accentuate the humor and drama.
Braff, if anything, should sue himself for plagiarism.
I'll give credit, though, to Braff for at least garnering some strong
performances from his cast, not to mention earnestly and sincerely
tackling some weighty material with an honesty and matter-of-fact
gumption. Braff himself is
also in solid form playing Aidan Bloom, an out-of-work actor that’s
struggling to earn a living to support his two kids (Joey King and Pierce
Gagnon) and wife Sarah (Kate Hudson, as an refined and natural as she’s
been on camera in a long time). Aidan
still has high aspirations of becoming a full-time working actor, much to
the chagrin of his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin, lending some much needed
low-key gravitas to the production), a staunchly religious Jewish man that
believes that Aidan has really dropped the ball on not only raising his
kids in the proper Jewish faith, but also in not wanting “man-up” and
look at other career options.
also has issues with his other son Noah (Josh Gad), whom Gabe once
thought was a genius and had potential for academic greatness, but now has
become a pseudo hermit that lives in beachside trailer and wants to be a
blogger. Things for Aidan and
his family really go south when it's discovered that Gabe is quickly dying
of cancer and can no longer afford to fund Aidan’s kid’s education at a
lucrative and exclusive private school.
Of course, the children are relatively well adjusted compared to
their parents, especially the daughter, who seems to healthily embrace her
Jewish faith and is proud of her grandfather’s spiritual legacy.
Aidan, on the other hand, feels that his children have essentially
become brainwashed, so he decides to home school them, with predictably
wacky and embarrassing results.
seems equal to the task of honing in on significant issues of life and
death, the fragility of marriage when placed under economic stresses,
father/son relationships, and how dreams sometimes can be easily crushed
by the harsh reality of the times one exists in.
There’s a certain poignancy that typifies his handling of this
divergent material, even when discipline is lacking in marrying them
altogether to create a meaningful whole.
The title of the film itself hints at the existentialist dilemma
that most of us, I think, struggle with on a daily basis.
We often disengage ourselves from what’s truly important in life
and staring right in front of us. For Aidan, he has placed so much
emphasis on pursuing his own acting dreams that he fails to register the
sublime pleasures of being a father and husband.
He's so trapped within his own sad-sacked shell of apprehension
that investing in the problems of others is difficult.
as he displayed in GARDEN STATE, can play these lovable losers/slackers
with a freewheeling composure. He’s
complimented well by Kate Hudson, whose wife character is developed with a
bit more dimension than what I was frankly expecting. Hudson has a wonderful
scene of reflection when Sarah reveals to Aidan – during one evening
when the pair connect at a lifeguard station near the beach – why
she’s having issues with continuing to support her husband’s dreams when
they appear to be unattainable. Hudson
also has a remarkably tender and truthful exchange with Patinkin while
Gabe is bedridden and near death. Sarah
has always felt distant from her father-in-law, perhaps because she’s
only half-Jewish, but in this heartbreaking scene she explicitly relays to
Gabe what both he and his sons need to do to reconcile all of their
respective issues with the other. Their
whole exchange is impeccably rendered.
just wished that WISH I WAS HERE had more scenes of sobering reflection
like that one. Braff seems
indifferent when it comes to both tone and plot; too much of the time
the film awkwardly segues back and forth from breezy, situational comedy
to teary-eyed dramatic pathos, which leads to the film feeling
disconnected within itself. The
overall plot here as well seems to meander around with a bit too much
aimlessness before it germinates into something consequential.
There are some concepts – like an ongoing fantasy dreamlike
sequence involving Aidan fondly recalling how he and his sibling used to
rely on the fertility of their imaginations when playing together as
children – that seems kind of hopelessly abstract and frustratingly
vague; they feel like sequences from a whole different film that are kind
of messily shoehorned in here.
Braff, if anything, has natural instincts as a writer and director. GARDEN STATE unequivocally proved that and, to some extent, he displays his ample talents in WISH I WAS HERE as well (there are many instances in the film when Braff demonstrates a good ear for the casualness and frankness of everyday conversations that exist between family members). Braff has the goods to make a film like this work, but WISH I WAS HERE simply doesn’t satisfactorily hold up. It has thoughtfully rendered and endearing characters, deeply committed and empowered performances, and a noble minded willingness to have something grand to say about life and death, but the scope and depth of the film’s message seems at an ill-at-ease arm’s length for Braff throughout. There’s a great follow-up film to GARDEN STATE to be made by this multi-talented filmmaker…WISH I WAS HERE is sadly not it.