VOD film review: Wish I Was Here
James R | On 14, Jan 2015
Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin
Watch Wish I Was Here online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
It’s hard to imagine a more Zach Braff-y film than Garden State. That is, until you’ve seen Wish I Was Here.
The movie, very much a follow-up to his previous quirky-immature-guy-comes-of-age-and-learns-life-lessons hit, is about a quirky, immature guy coming of age and learning life lessons. At least, that’s what it says on the tin.
Braff plays Aidan, an actor who finds himself having to rethink his life when his wealthy dad, Gabe (Patinkin), becomes ill and decides to keep hold of the bank funds to try and cure himself. What will his kids do without being able to attend private school? What will his wife, Sarah, do, trying to support the kids while holding down a job? What about his brother, a “genius” child who spends his day making cosplay costumes to impress a girl? And, more importantly, when will Aidan get the lucky break he needs to become a famous actor?
The script, written by Zach and his brother, Adam, provides endless obstacles for Aidan to navigate, mixed with typically surreal and offbeat humour – from awkward home-school lessons to a joy ride in a sports car with Scrubs’ Donald Faison. The well-juggled tone is as much expected from a Zach Braff film as the indie soundtrack. Made with the support of Zach Braff fans through Kickstarter, it’s a movie unashamedly made for those people.
The problem is that Zach Braff’s film is mostly interested in Zach Braff’s character, the one written by and starring Zach Braff. He’s earnest, dreams of artistic success and is prone to fantasise about being a spaceman. He’s as Zach Braff-y as a protagonist can get. While the star’s schtick does charm in its own twee way, Aidan’s self-centred nature – and the belief that he deserves to have his dreams fulfilled – makes for a surprisingly unlikeable protagonist. The fact that Aidan seems to learn little from his hard-done-by rite of passage only exacerbates the issue; Garden State resonated with its sincere, 20-something appreciation of the wider world, but Wish I Was Here’s 30-something limbo struggles to find a note to hold on.
Amid the recitals of Robert Frost and Coldplay, though, are beats that genuinely linger. Mandy Patinkin’s gruff father – complete with Homeland beard – spends the runtime in bed dispatching disparaging comments about his sons. Kate Hudson’s Sarah, meanwhile, has to deal with sexual harassment at her office. Their stories in themselves may not ring true, but when Sarah and Gabe meet halfway through at the hospital, they have a conversation that could well bring you to tears; a moving discussion of flaws and feelings that sees Kate Hudson deliver one of the best turns of her career. It’s proof that Braff is capable of finding tender, mature moments between his talented ensemble. Wish I Was Here? Wish it was about them instead. That life lesson, perhaps, will come with the director’s next movie.