In 2004 Zach Braff made the jump from primetime sit-com star (“Scrubs”) to acclaimed indie film director with the story of a failed actor with a major existential crisis in “Garden State.” His latest film “Wish I Was Here” follows the same path, just ten years down the road.
He trades in a departed mother for a dying father, both characters are on a spiritual quest accompanied by the soothing sounds of indie rock and when it’s time for the credits to roll his protagonist receives a form a clarity and a new lease on life.
“Wish I Was Here” flips the script, by trading in the rainy New Jersey skies, for sunny Los Angeles. Now, Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a down-on-his-luck married actor with an impossibly patient wife (Kate Hudson) who works in a cubicle farm while Aidan is auditioning for roles that seem to keep his career in neutral. And on top of this his father (Mandy Patinkin), reveals he is losing a bout with cancer and undergoing a costly experimental treatment regimen.
These plot point wrinkles are not breaking any new ground for Braff, and could be described as “phony” and derivative, but Braff directs the film with an earnest conviction that works in conjunction with the narrative’s sentiments – no matter how contrived they may appear.
The Bloom’s have two children (Joey King, Pierce Gagnon) who are forced out of yeshiva school due to their grandfather’s inability to pay the tuition. This prompts Aidan to become their homeschool instructor, (much to the chagrin of his wife, father and rabbi) which he sees as a more astute education philosophy. He can now break free from the chains of an organized curriculum and take them on vision quests in the desert and joy rides in an Aston Martin.
Braff’s philosophy on alternative lifestyle shines with these scenes. He questions the very institutions that shape our society such as schools, religion and the definition of family. The commentary is not a deep as a Terrance Malick, or Paul Thomas Anderson film, but there are enough sharp one-liners and funny situations to keep the film entertaining to keep the film poised against the solemn themes.
Patinkin makes the most out of his time on screen, same goes for Josh Gad who plays Aidan’s loser brother,who is a possible genius and into Cosplay. Hudson is fine in her role, but doesn’t bring the same level of quirkiness that we know she is capable of- cue reference to Penny Lane in “Almost Famous.
Despite the film’s faults Braff channels a storyline that is akin to his previous work and although it is not groundbreaking it works as a quiet comeback. “Wish I Was Here” provides an easy digestible slice-of-life comedy that integrates comedy into the dark side of life.
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