Zach Braff’s 2004 directorial effort ‘Garden State’ was a quirky look at a twentysomething navigating the bumpy road of life after college. Fast forward ten years. Instead of turning to a Hollywood studio, Braff made the bold move to finance his next project ‘Wish I Was Here’ through Kickstarter. It was a smashing success. With the help of 47,000 fans from around the world, Braff was able to write and direct the film with his brother. It afforded him a creative freedom usually reserved for the Hollywood elite. The result is a stylishly honest examination of a thirtysomething struggling to hang on to his career dreams while confronting his responsibilities as a parent and husband.
There are a few similarities between ‘Wish I Was Here’ and ‘Garden State.’ However, they look at two vastly different periods in one’s life. In Braff’s character Aidan Bloom, he’s a bit weathered at the edges but he still has a sharp wit and boyish quality to his personality. There are similarities to his Andrew Largeman character in ‘Garden State’ but there is one big difference - Aidan has grown-up responsibilities now. It is playfully shown at the breakfast table before he drives his kids off to school and his wife runs off to her office job. We’re introduced to the family swear jar on top of the fridge every time Aidan utters a curse word. We also discover that Aidan has been an out of work actor for years and lets his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) deal with the household expenses.
What makes ‘Wish I Was Here’ so touching is a trump card Braff deals to the audience. It gives this indie comedy a necessary jolt. Not only does Aidan’s wife have to support the family at a boring office job with the water department, his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) pays the tuition so the two kids can attend a Yeshiva (an expensive Jewish school). To make matters worse, he explains to his son that he can no longer pay for the school because he’s been diagnosed with cancer and needs the money for medical treatments not covered by his health insurance. He scolds his son for clinging on to the pipe dream of becoming an actor. Aidan’s last paycheck came from a dandruff commercial years ago. Aidan also has a brother (Josh Gad) who is estranged from his father and is still grieving over their mother’s death. His brother sets out to make the ultimate Comic-Con costume to get the attention of a cute girl who is into cosplay. “You know what’s the problem with hiding in a fishbowl? Everyone can see you.”
What makes Aidan snap to reality are the challenges many his age must face. Thanks to magnificent performances from the cast, ‘Wish I Was Here’ is a self-reflective look at a guy that finally has the courage to face life. Mandy Patinkin gives a masterful performance as Braff’s father. Gabe’s criticism of his son is harsh but he means well and genuinely loves his sons. One of the most poignant scenes is when Aidan’s wife Sarah visits Gabe at the hospital. Kate Hudson is a revelation here. She always knows how to turn on the cuteness in romantic comedies but Braff’s thoughtful script gives her a chance to really shine. She is older and wiser in this role. It grounds the film. She is the glue that holds her family together. When Aidan and her sneak off for a date, the spark is still there between them but she beautifully reaches out to him for help. Aidan finally wakes up and realizes that his dream and real-life are not in harmony with one another.
Some may criticize the film for having the character settle but making compromises is not a sign of failure, it’s a sign of growing up. ‘Wish I Was Here’ is not about finding a new love. It’s about reconnecting to an old one and taking on the responsibilities of life. I applaud Zach Braff for chasing his dream of making a funny and touching movie outside of the Hollywood system. In real life, Braff made compromises and came out with a film in touch with his generation. I just hope Braff doesn’t wait another ten years to make his next indie film. 'Wish I Was Here' official trailer http://youtu.be/kw8VCDx399I.