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'Wish I Was Here' review: A pilgrimage into responsibility

Wish I Was Here

Rating:
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"Wish I Was Here" will be released theatrically nationwide starting today.

Donald Faison, Zach Braff, Joey King, and Pierce Gagnon in "Wish I Was Here."
Donald Faison, Zach Braff, Joey King, and Pierce Gagnon in "Wish I Was Here."
Photo courtesy of Focus Features, used with permission.
The official theatrical poster for "Wish I Was Here."
The official theatrical poster for "Wish I Was Here."
Photo courtesy of Focus Features, used with permission.

"Garden State" was a huge part in molding my first few years as an adult. I was right on the verge of turning 21 when the film was released. The story of Andrew distancing himself from his family and then being forced to come back into it all while rediscovering who he is as a person really seemed to hit home. A decade later, Zach Braff has finally delivered a follow-up. "Wish I Was Here" is everything you'd think a film written, directed and starring Braff would be yet it also seems to venture into new, peculiar territory that is completely unexpected.

Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor. He hasn't had a decent part in months and spends the majority of his time preparing for auditions that go nowhere. In the meantime, his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) works full-time to support the family and her husband's pipedream. Their two kids Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) attend private school, but are forced out when Aidan's father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is suddenly no longer able to pay for their education.

Against his father's wishes, Aidan begins home schooling his children. Even though Aidan is the first to admit that he has no idea what he's doing as a parent or otherwise, he's able to find a reason to finally take the progressive step forward during his eye-opening journey.

You're going to feel conflicted once you see the sci-fi sequences in "Wish I Was Here." There's this very strong, cohesive story being told about Aidan's life, the constant barrage of obstacles that life is always throwing in your way when you seem to already be so far down on your luck, and trying to overcome that skyscraper-sized hurdle. But Aidan is always having these fantasies; daydreams that are a throwback to his childhood when he and his brother Jonah (Josh Gad) would try to save the day as heroes and yet questions whether or not they were really just trying to save themselves.

The film slides between the comedy and drama genres with ease; explaining the family swear jar or Aidan having humorous arguments with his children one moment and Aidan's father and brother turning their back on him when they need him the most the next. Aidan's current situation is pulling him in a dozen different directions, but he'd rather make time to prepare for an audition than properly teach his kids.

There have been at least a handful of comparisons between "Garden State" and "Wish I Was Here" claiming that the films are too similar and that the sci-fi sequences in Zach Braff's latest are unwarranted. The two films are very different. As Andrew Largeman in “Garden State,” Large purposely distances himself from his family after being forced out of their lives at the age of 16. In “Wish I Was Here,” Aidan Bloom chooses to follow his dream which in turn causes his father and brother to treat him the way that they do.

"Garden State" feels like it was aimed towards an individual character going down that road of self-discovery and finding not only someone waiting for him on the other side, but also a version of himself that he didn’t anticipate. "Wish I Was Here" is more about a family man deciding to step away from his dream to accept the fact that he needs to provide for his family. The moments of sci-fi have a purpose and they make sense. They just happen to be presented in an odd way. It’s basically Aidan’s inner turmoil dressed as a space man and fleeing its inevitable fate and acceptance.

There is an overwhelming amount of emotion and well-written scenarios in "Wish I Was Here." The writing when the film is at its most dramatic is filled with heartfelt wit and some of the advice given in the film is extremely powerful. Like most independent cinema, the film has this awkward charm that makes you laugh and yanks at your heartstrings all within the span of a few minutes. The unique and imaginative spectacle known as “Wish I Was Here” is highlighted by exceptional performances and a genuine narrative. The film is like a pilgrimage into responsibility.

However, the comedic drama tends to run in place for most of its two-hour duration before continuing down the path the characters knew they needed to the entire time in its final moments. Even with its rich almost “Tree of Life”-like cinematography and strong message, the bewildering "Wish I Was Here" falters in between its moments of pure excellence. A well-made film by a talented individual has to settle for being a compelling adventure that stumbles and falls short of crossing that finish line into absolute greatness.