#REVIEW: “WISH I WAS HERE”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Garden State will always be special to me. Zach Braff’s directorial debut was released in and around the start of my first romantic relationship, and I ended up seeing the Film on one of our first dates. It was quite the amazing first-time project. And while it has not held up entirely well, it is the rare Film that has an infectious, sweet and genuine energy to it. So while I was not on board with Braff’s Kickstarter Campaign, I remained enthusiastic about his second Project as a Writer/Director/Actor – Wish I Was Here.
Aidan (Braff) is going through a mid-life crisis. He keeps going to auditions, but has not landed an acting gig in some time. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is supporting his dream of becoming an Actor, while working a dead-end job and sustaining their small Family. To make matters worse, Aidan’s Father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is dying of Cancer, and has just used up all of the money putting Aidan and Sarah’s Kids through school.
Where Garden State was about a struggling actor and his crisis of identity, Wish I Was Here is about a struggling Actor, his crisis of Faith and Family, and his search for meaning in his life. These are heady subjects and Braff seems eager to examine them – except the Film feels entirely disjointed and totally uncertain of itself from the very beginning. The Soundtrack is still on-point and it looks significantly more polished than its predecessor. But it also feels like a few too many ideas smashed together, never able to find its focus. The Film often goes off on bizarre tangents and introduces unresolved Subplots at every turn. Any defining Character Trait or motivation is mentioned in passing, but never really explored beyond a potential nod later in the Story. And even then, the payoff is non-existent.
And I rarely ever criticize profanity in a Film (I do adore the Maestro Quentin Tarantino after all), but the number of times “fuck” was used seemed almost unnatural and downright distracting.
While the Film has its problems, some of the acting is quite remarkable. Josh Gad is wonderful as Aidan’s estranged brother Noah. He is the funniest character in the Film, but he also delivers a wallop in the film’s most emotional moments. He seems to have perfected his role as a Supporting Character in his past few Films; I can only hope he will become more of a lead soon enough. Just as great is the young Joey King, fresh off her supporting role in FX’s Fargo Mini-Series. While Braff himself seems to have trouble really honing-in on the Film’s themes, she exhibits them near brilliantly. She gets a bit undercut in some instances, but when the Film wisely chooses to focus on her, she casts a long shadow over everyone else. And though his acting becomes heavy-handed, Patinkin is great as Aidan’s dying, regretful Father. I’ve never been a big fan of his work, but this is one of his better performances in quite some time.
Be sure to watch for small performances from The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons, Scrubs Alum Donald Faison and Braff’s Friend and permanent co-star Michael Weston, who plays Hudson’s rather “memorable” co-worker Jerry. Also of note – the Film features the final performance for James Avery of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fame. It’s a real shame it wasn’t a more substantial Role.
Wish I Was Here was a Passion Project for Braff and his Brother/Co-writer Adam. It took ten years for Braff to follow-up Garden State, and he did it on his own terms. Despite some flaws, it packs some seriously wonderful performances. Braff is a truly gifted Filmmaker – let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2024 for his next project.
eOne Films release WISH I WAS HERE on Friday, July 18, 2014.