Anyone following Zach Braff knows about the profound connection and gratitude he shows towards his fans, so it’s not surprising that when looking for funds for his second directorial effort he would turn to Kickstarter. Braff’s 2004 debut as a writer and director, Garden State, developed and maintained a cult-following despite an increasingly negative critical backlash in the years following its release and in 2013 an astounding 46,520 people raised over $3 million to help get his second feature off the ground.
In the anticipated comedy drama Wish I Was Here, Braff plays 35-year old struggling actor Aidan Bloom. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is the sole bread-winner of the family, stuck in a dead-end job with an annoying cubicle-partner. After Aidan’s father (Mandy Patinkin) falls ill and can no longer afford to pay for the couple’s children’s private school, it falls on Aidan to educate his kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) in any way he can, ultimately discovering himself in the process.
Wish I Was Here is all about the characters. About the importance of family. It’s beautiful, sincere, warm and most of all relatable. It opens with Aidan saying: “My brother and I used to pretend that we were heroes, the only ones who could save the day. But maybe we’re just the regular people, the ones who get saved.” It’s evident that the film echoes a wonderful contrast between how Braff used to think and what he has learned about himself since his last film. We have all faced difficult times in our lives, times from which we didn’t think we could ever recover. This feel-good drama tackles such serious times with just enough comedy to allow you to breathe, with just enough light in the darkness to make you think that maybe all is not lost.
Once Aidan’s daughter shaves her head in a cry for someone to notice her real self, he takes her to a shop full of wigs and tells her to choose one as amazing and unique as she is and like a blotch of colour, King stands out, as an incredible young actress and character, with a purple bob-cut for the rest of the film. The characters are not the stereotypes seen so often; they are human with problems and faults who ultimately show bravery in the face of death, with hearts bigger than life. It’s easy to see a little of yourself in all of them such as the genius nerd who’s lost his motivation, the man balancing dreams and reality, the wife who sacrifices her needs for her family and the grandpa who believes he’s failed as a parent.
A family in crisis is hardly a new narrative venture, and the film is quite similar to Garden State, which likewise centres around a failing actor who’s lost his way. The film sports a few too many montages and towards the end blaring plot-holes begin to show the seams of a script which is, otherwise, well-written with smart, witty dialogue that will crack plenty of smiles (“Fuck apps; it’s a saturated market. I’m going to start blogging.”) Most of all, the writing benefits from being an emotional journey of self-discovery and enlightenment, so ready your water-proof mascara or practice your ‘Got something in my eyes’ bit, because the waterworks are inevitable. Not because it’s sad (though it can be, so be warned) but because it’s a rollercoaster of misery, laughter, and heart-felt depth.
Despite its problems, Wish I Was Here is a warm and honest look into life and death, with a well-balanced mix of misery and laughter. The characters are human, the performances excellent, the themes relatable. Though the narrative is nothing new it is well-worth your time if you’re in need of some cheering up.