Genre: Comedy, Drama
Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin
You just have to look at the tagline – ‘life is an occasion, rise to it’ – of Zach Braff’s second directorial effort to know what you’re going to get from the film. It’s another life-affirming tale, in a similar vein as Garden State, but relocated to the sun-kissed coast of California. Given its parallel tone, any diehard fans of Zach Braff’s first film are unlikely to be disappointed with this sophomore effort. The rest of us however, are likely to find Wish I Was Here a tad too pedestrian.
Similarly to Garden State, the story, written by Braff and his brother Adam, draws on thematic issues of estranged families, lost souls, and Jewish upbringings. At its centre is Braff’s character Aidan, a struggling actor in his mid-30s who is still trying to find his place in the world. Despite his beautiful wife and children, Aidan feels adrift. However, when his father’s cancer returns and his children are in need of home schooling, Aidan begins to find new purpose in his life.
In front of the camera, Braff is once more the energetic driving force. He’s a consistently engaging presence; able to nail both the comedic and emotional beats with ease. There’s laughter in the scenes he shares with his two young children (charmingly played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon), and tears in those between him and his father – a superb Mandy Patinkin, effortlessly pulling on our heartstrings.
Sadly there just isn’t the same vigour infused in to Braff’s work behind the camera. Some of the later scenes, notably one between Aidan’s father and wife (an underused Kate Hudson), which strive to be emotive, are negated by the script’s ineffectively overemotional dialogue and the director’s overuse of a quirky and sentimental soundtrack. His use of cameos is continually distracting, particularly Donald Faison’s, which feels more like a courtesy to Scrubs fans than anything else. And the power of Aidan’s plight is continually undermined by Braff’s bizarre insistence of using visual metaphors to further reinforce an idea he has already made clear.
To their credit, the Braff Brothers do manage to smooth over many of the cracks with gentle humour that perfectly complements the warmth evoked by the Californian setting. But nothing can hide the fact that Wish I Was Here isn’t able to embody the same effect as Garden State, if anything it’s only able to mimic it.
Braff turned to his fans on Kickstarter in order to stop Hollywood’s greedy moneymen having final cut of his second passion project. And though it’s hard to argue with that prerogative, one can’t help but think that an influx of fresh creative ideas may have done the film some extra good.