While it’s been a decade since Zach Braff came out with his directorial debut Garden State, the actor’s latest offering, Wish I Was Here, feels a bit like déjà vu.
In both films, Braff is a struggling actor coming to terms with the death of a loved one. The only difference now is that he’s older.
With that being said, Wish I Was Here isn’t identical to its predecessor. While the film has garnered divisive opinions, mostly due to Braff’s decision to fund the project on Kickstarter, it does contain several sweet and touching moments.
A coming-of-age film about a man who learns to grow up later in life, Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a 35-year-old father of two who’s desperately trying to make it as an actor. While he has good intentions, he’s lazy and self-interested, often frustrating his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) who tries to make ends meet at desk job she has no passion for.
Set to the sounds of Bon Iver and Cat Power, the film directed and co-written by Braff (who wrote the movie with his brother Adam) is filled with schmaltzy moments and life epiphanies.
Meanwhile, his kids go to Yeshiva, not because Aidan is particularly religious, but because his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays for it and demands they get a religious education. But when Aidan finds out his father’s cancer has relapsed, he reaches a crossroads at his life as he is forced to redefine his career and responsibilities. Now unable to pay for schooling due to cancer treatments, Aidan must act as the backbone of the family, all while homeschooling his kids and reuniting his geeky brother Noah (Josh Gad) back with his dad.
Set to the sounds of Bon Iver and Cat Power, the film directed and co-written by Braff (who wrote the movie with his brother Adam) is filled with schmaltzy moments and life epiphanies. As Aidan realizes he makes a terrible teacher, he takes his children along on his soul-searching journeys, such as camping trips in the Californian desert and teaching them the importance of fence repairs. But while it may get annoying to see Aidan go about teaching his kids life lessons rather than bringing them to a real school, what’s more irritating are the strange recurring sequences featuring him in a spacesuit while pursuing a cloaked villain. Meant to serve as a metaphor to his childhood fantasies of being a hero, watching these scenes instead, feel tiring and clichéd.
Though at times the film can get a bit too over-the-top with each life revelation Braff’s character has, what ultimately does help the film go forward are his quirky kids. Filled with witty one-liners and commentary, they add much humour to the story.
Joey King (White House Down), who is growing nicely as an actress, plays older sister Sarah, a smart awkward preteen struggling about leaving Yeshiva. Her younger brother Tucker, played by the charming Pierce Gagnon, is the odd kind of kid who brings power tools to school and keeps them under his bed.
That’s not to say the kids completely steal the show; the older supporting characters are effective as well. One particularly heartbreaking scene between Hudson and Patinkin where they contemplate their lives and dreams feels raw and honest. Gad, on the other hand, is brilliant as the do-nothing nerd who’s trying hard to suppress the fear he has at his father’s impending death.
Making the movie seem like a Garden State for older people, this film doesn’t do much in enlightening audiences with lessons about growing up and not taking life for granted.
But as heartwarming as it is to see Braff’s protagonist grow up and serve as the backbone of his family, Wish I Was Here doesn’t feel very fresh. While the production funded by donations made to Kickstarter may have gotten people intrigued, the film ultimately feels like something we’ve seen before.
Making the movie seem like a Garden State for older people, this film doesn’t do much in enlightening audiences with lessons about growing up and not taking life for granted. Had the Braff brothers chosen to add more touching moments such as Hudson and Patinkin’s into the story as opposed to those unbearable space fantasy scenes, this film would have certainly lived up to its hype.
With that said though, original songs written by Bon Iver and The Shins for film’s soundtrack are particularly lovely. They fit nicely into the movie, especially during scenes where Aidan takes his kids on life-prophetic road trips.
RATING: 3 soul-searching journeys out of 5