Film Review: Wish I Was Here

A failing actor learns that his father is dying in Zach Braff's Kickstarter-funded feature.

Ten years after Garden State built a small but devoted following, Zach Braff returns with Wish I Was Here, another low-key comedy-drama with whimsical twists. Braff's fans will turn out again, but the movie's darker tone and more self-indulgent style might keep others away.

Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, an aspiring actor married to Sarah (Kate Hudson) and the father of young Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Aidan hasn't made much headway since appearing in a dandruff commercial years earlier. Sarah's job at the water department keeps the family afloat, along with contributions from his sickly father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

But Sarah is being sexually harassed at work by Jerry (Michael Weston), while experimental cancer treatments mean that Gabe can no longer pay for the kids' yeshiva. Will Aidan have to give up his dreams, get a job, and—gasp—send his kids to public school?

Postponing his decisions as long as possible, Aidan starts home-schooling Tucker and Grace, who quickly prove smarter than their father. As Gabe's prospects dim, Aidan urges his estranged brother Noah (Josh Gad) to visit their dad.

Braff, currently impersonating Woody Allen in the musical Bullets Over Broadway, seems to be channeling Ray "Everybody Loves Raymond" Romano here. Aidan is a whiny, sex-starved malcontent whose response to everything in life is a one-liner. Because Braff is such an affable screen presence, it's easy to relate to many of his character's concerns. Unfortunately, his script, written with his brother Adam, settles for easy answers. A cynic might call it trite.

Braff the director makes Kate Hudson look absolutely angelic, and gets an intriguing performance from King as an adolescent nearly consumed by doubt. He also gives his star way too many admiring close-ups, and lets Patinkin milk his scenes for every drop of pathos.

Wish I Was Here dawdles over several unrewarding subplots and drags out its poorly judged fantasy sequences. Braff took some heat for partially funding the movie through Kickstarter, a choice he has said gave him greater artistic control. Ironically, a smaller budget and tighter studio control might have benefited the whole project.

Or maybe not. Wish I Was Here is the kind of muted, mildly quirky story that gets workshopped to death at Sundance. As Gabe puts it, Aidan is "sitting around waiting for a dream to come true." Maybe Braff will dig a little deeper the next time.

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