It’s easy to hate on Writer-Director Zach Braff’s latest film, Wish I was Here. In the years since his feature directorial debut, Garden State, there’s been a massive backlash against that film and then there was the whole Kickstarter page to help fund this latest one. I wish I could say that the naysayers were wrong, but Braff’s latest has good intentions, but it’s just not a very good movie.
The truth is, Wish I was Here is essentially a re-packaged Garden State with little of the charm and an older main character. Braff plays Aidan, a struggling actor with father issues—sounding familiar? He is married to his super-hot wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), who works in a job she hates in order to support her husband and his acting dreams. Oh yeah, and they have two kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). Aidan’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), is dying and feels that his son should give up on his dreams of stardom and find a job to help support his family. Aidan’s genius brother, Noah (Josh Gad), meanwhile, is also wasting his potential away by coating on an inheritance from his mother. Will this family reunite before Gabe meets his end? Do we as an audience even care?
There are a lot of things to like in Wish I was Here, but the problem is, they get smothered by the fact that there is zero subtlety in this film. All the emotions and what Braff thinks the audience should feel are shoved in your face constantly. Also, aside from Aidan and his immediate family, all the other characters are completely one note, lacking in any kind of nuance. You know what these people are going to say before they appear on screen. This is painfully apparent in Sarah’s subplot where she is dealing with sexual harassment at her job. The guy doing the harassing, Jerry (Michael Weston), is so over the top, he’s cartoonish. The same goes for Sarah’s boss (Matt Winston), who tells her she needs to “lighten up.” It’s at this point that I reveal that Sarah works for the Water Department—a government job. You can bet that if a sexual harassment complaint is made at a government job, that complaint would be investigated to the nth degree. In this film, it is just a story device to give Sarah something to do, because she sure isn’t spending time with her family.
I found Aidan to be almost completely unlikable as a character and could not get behind him at all. Having an arrangement where one spouse follows his or her dream while the other does the heavy lifting is fine—if it’s just the two of them. The minute a kid enters the picture—much less two—it’s time to stop being selfish, man up, and help out. Instead, we have to listen to Aidan whine the entire film about his dreams. He’s so self-centered, it made me sick. Then, when Sarah tries to push back on this, she does a 180 and defends him to his father later, resolving nothing.
Acting-wise, the best part of this film is a single scene between Hudson and Patinkin—it’s some of her best work, but that’s no stretch considering how much pap she appears in. Gad does all right in his role, but again, he just comes across as one note and then turns on the emotion when the script calls for it. The kids felt like their characters should have been switched around. Grace is hyper-religious and very naïve about real world concerns, while six-year-old Tucker seems a bit savvier. I saw this as Braff’s commentary on religion, but again, it hits you over the head so hard, it loses its power. As for Braff, I think his film would have been better served without him in the lead. The whole thing just comes across as so self-serving.
Overall, you should skip Wish I was Here. Not only is it a re-packaged, inferior version of Garden State, it also felt like a lousy dramatic take on Mr. Mom. There were some good ideas here, but Braff either doesn’t trust his audience to get it or he doesn’t have another set of eyes telling him what works and what doesn’t, which is impossible, because his brother Adam serves as a Co-Writer. It’s just a film that’s been done better before and is, ultimately, not worth your time.