Published Jul 17, 2014When Zach Braff's directorial debut Garden State celebrated its tenth anniversary in January, it seemed like the internet's collective consciousness changed its stance on the generation-defining dramedy. To enjoy such a heartfelt feature was now, as its detractors argued, "uncool."
For viewers to change their mind on such a momentous picture — one that, it should be noted, was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize in 2004 and won a Grammy for its soundtrack that same year — is not entirely unusual (I'm looking at you, Dances With Wolves), but it is strange considering how popular it once was.
Depending on where you fall on the Garden State appreciation scale will surely impact your viewing experience of Braff's newest feature, Wish I Was Here — a film that arrives more than ten years after his previous picture, yet feels as if nothing has changed.
Braff writes, directs and stars in the film as Aidan Bloom, an egomaniacal and anxiety-ridden actor who is forced to home-school his children after his father (Mandy Patinkin) falls ill and decides to spend his remaining wealth on an experimental medication, rather than fund his grandchildren's upper class, Orthodox Jewish education.
Things only get worse from there: his wife (Kate Hudson) is harassed by a co-worker and hates her career; his genius man-child brother (Josh Gad) is more concerned with chasing a furry than making amends with his father; and his daughter (the wise-beyond-her-years Joey King) shaves her head in a fit of spiritual enlightenment.
With his life in financial and emotional disarray, Bloom must rise above, be the superhero he and his brother always dreamed of being, to reconnect his family and save his marriage.
To buy into the film's Be Here Now-ish philosophy, one must fully embrace the Braff-y anxieties of the film's star and its subject matter. Religious, social, sexual and personal fears are all mixed in a hodgepodge of snappy one-liners and humorous asides to both heart-warming success and little avail. Much like Garden State, most of this film seems designed to make you experience some sort of post-millennial epiphany about your place in the world; to see this film only through a steely-eyed gaze would miss the point entirely. Braff, evidently, still has something to say, but what that means depends on whether or not you're willing to listen.
In retrospect, the fact that Braff and his brother Adam (who co-wrote the feature) funded their film through Kickstarter as opposed to a traditional studio so that they could "make a movie… with no compromises" is a bit perplexing; this is the kind of schmaltzy, over the top stuff studio executives' dreams are made of. By doing so, all of the juicy, overly sentimental bits are left intact, but so are the fatty ones as well, leaving this picture a little lopsided at times.
Still, if you're willing to gorge yourself on the Braff brothers' emotional buffet, Wish I Was Here does not disappoint.