Wish I Was Here

Directed by Zach Braff
Starring Zach Braff, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King and Mandy Patinkin
On UK DVD January 26th, 2015

by Joanna Orland

In 2004, Zach Braff’s Garden State captured the essence of a mid-twenties crisis to perfection, garnering cult status and capturing the zeitgeist of independent cinema.  Ten years later, Braff’s Wish I Was Here updates the crisis to the mid-thirties, but lacks a bit of the inexplicable charm that propelled Garden State into the cultish stratosphere of beloved indie films.

Much like the themes of this film have been updated from twenties to thirties, this film’s production has been updated from 2004 to 2014, being funded primarily through a ridiculously successful Kickstarter campaign.  The success of this campaign allowed director Braff much more freedom in making this film, but maybe it also acted as a hindrance to him.  The money raised allowed Braff to have full decision on the final cut, but perhaps a tighter edit from a more objective perspective would have seen this film reproduce the success of Garden State.  We will never know.

Aidan Bloom (Braff) is a struggling actor dealing with financial woes as he tries to be father and homeschooling teacher to his two children, husband to his dissatisfied wife (Hudson), brother to his even less successful brother (Gad), and son to his cancer-stricken and terminally ill father (Patinkin).  As Aidan’s father is on death’s door, he can no longer offer the financial support he’s been providing to assist Aidan’s children with their private Jewish school education.  As he refuses to give up his adolescent dream of acting, Aidan can’t offer a financial solution to the problem and pulls his kids out of school to be home-schooled until the new semester begins at the local public school.  Aidan’s wife is dissatisfied with her work life and as the family’s only true breadwinner, the stress of it all is taking its toll on her happiness.  Aidan chooses to be stuck in life, unable to move on to the next chapter.

A bit lost like its main character, the film and Aiden both eventually find their way as the film unfolds to a soundtrack of Emo tunes, alongside the remnants of charm leftover from Braff’s Garden State.  While the former dealt with what seemed at the time to be serious issues from our twenties, the latter takes on actual serious issues of dealing with responsibility, love and death.  Never hard-hitting but at times brutally honest, Wish I Was Here grates through to become a likable and meaningful film.  Laughter, sentimentality, pretentiousness, self-indulgence and tears are all accounted for in this film that can often feel like it’s trying too hard.  Try as it may, it does succeed, albeit through stealth rather than immediate empathetic likability.

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