Wish I Was Here
Zach Braff's follow-up to his critically acclaimed indie hit "Garden State" is a labor of love -- funded by Kickstarter fans -- and is certainly not without its pleasures. There is a sweetness to "Wish I Was Here" and an earnest desire to talk about real issues. The problem is that he ends up skimming through them without really settling on one. As a result it's an uneven, but genial work that still holds the Braff spark, but could use a tweak or two.
The film follows a father of two named Aidan (Braff) who is an unemployed 40-year-old actor whose wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), is the breadwinner of the family. Aidan's father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays for their kid's private Jewish school, but has learned his cancer is back and wants to use that money for alternative treatments. So Aidan has to figure out what to do. He asks his brother Noah (Josh Gad) for money that he's saved from their mother's life insurance, but he refuses to give it up while he pursues his own dreams -- though he doesn't really know what they are yet. So Aidan has to go it alone and decides to home school 8-year-old Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and 13-year-old Grace (Joey King).
Meanwhile, he is wrestling with a list of demons: A fractured relationship with his father, the fact that his brother and father don't talk, his wife's inappropriate co-worker, a daughter who has become religiously conservative, the question of religion and spirituality for himself, taking care of his family financially, and whether or not it's time to give up on his dream of acting. This is a lot for one guy, and a common theme for someone going through essentially what amounts to a mid-life crisis. The problem is that, for a film, there are so many ideas to focus on that they all get a bit short-changed.
Thankfully, all of the performances are spot-on. Patinkin is appropriately stoic and curmudgeonly as the distant father who has to apologize to his kids before he dies. Gagnon and King are terrific as the kids, with King proving she could be the next up and coming Elle Fanning or Shailene Woodley. But it was Hudson that impressed the most. While she burst onto the scene in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," she then fell into the romantic comedy divot and couldn't seem to get herself out of it. But here she gets to play a nuanced character with real problems and real moments in which to shine. Her conversations with Gabe by his hospital bed are some of the finest moments of the film.
Truth be told, the issues Braff and co-screenwriter (and brother) Adam Braff raise are interesting and even topical. All are worthy exploring, and they do their best. Perhaps this is a family that could use its own TV show in which to continue exploring them.
Sure, this isn't as glorious as "Garden State," but Braff brings a maturity here that makes me curious as to what he'd bring to the table next.