Zach Braff touched a lot of hearts, including mine, with his self-assured directorial debut, 2004’s Garden State. So much so that thousands of people dug into their own pockets to help finance the Kickstarter campaign for his long-awaited follow-up, Wish I Was Here.
Well, I wish it weren’t so, but it appears as though all those people have backed a failed venture. Garden State was a clear-eyed film that knew how to tap into the feelings of a generation, both with its story and its music, but Wish I Was Here is a muddled mess that lacks purpose.
Garden State was a clear-eyed film that knew how to tap into the feelings of a generation, but Wish I Was Here is a muddled mess that lacks purpose.
Perhaps the start of the problem was that Braff thought he could slide by in creating a somewhat similar story. This time around he plays Aidan Bloom, who’s also a struggling actor with a load of issues surrounding his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin). Aidan doesn’t need to look for love, though, as he’s already in a seemingly steady marriage with Sarah (Kate Hudson), and they have two kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon).
When Gabe has a cancer relapse and can’t afford to pay for his grandkids’ private school tuition, it sends Aidan into a bit of a tailspin, as he tries to figure out how to handle the double dose of bad news.
Although the movie seems to have a relatively straightforward plot, Braff, who co-wrote the film with his brother Adam, loses the thread soon after Gabe’s revelation. He hopscotches around from scene to scene with no clear idea on why any of them is important.
Scenes with the kids, whom Aidan is forced to home school, never gel, mostly because Aidan seems like an uninvolved dad who has no clue how to relate to his kids. A story arc of redemption would seem to be called for, but the film never comes close to selling it, meaning the children are mostly props.
The film’s other relationships also fail to satisfy. The bond between Aidan and Sarah is a strange one, and Braff kind of sugarcoats a particular issue that would be a massive problem in most marriages. Aidan has a brother, Noah (Josh Gad), but for the life of me, I can’t see why he needed to be in the film at all. The only connection that actually comes across is the one between Aidan and Gabe, but even that could’ve used more seasoning.
Plus there are baffling interludes showing Aidan in a sci-fi costume with a floating robot sidekick. These scenes are supposed to recall when Aidan and Noah pretended to be heroes when they were kids, but the import of the symbolism fails to make the translation from Braff’s brain to the screen.
Even with all of the story problems, several performances make the film palatable. Hudson shows that her best years may be ahead of her; playing a wife and a mother suit her well. King and Gagnon have both impressed in other roles, and they do nothing to diminish their rising stars here. And it’s always a pleasure to spend some time in the company of Patinkin, whose wizened face seems to hold the truth to just about anything.
The soul of Wish I Was Here might have come out with more focus or better editing, but that's just wishful thinking. All that Braff fans can hang onto is knowing that we can still go home and enjoy Garden State again.