Director: Zach Braff
MPAA Rating: NR
[This is a repost of our review from Sundance 2014. Wish I Was Here opens in theaters today.]
Wish I Was Here, plays out very much like a spiritual successor to Zach Braff’s previous film, 2004’s Garden State. While Garden State saw Braff as a disenchanted and lost soul leaving his twenties, Wish I Was Here sees Braff in his next stage of life, dealing with children, money, and death.
Braff plays Aidan, an out of work actor struggling to get a gig in order to help support his wife, played by Kate Hudson, and two children. After he discovers his father (Mandy Patinkin) is no longer paying for his kid’s tuition, he finds out the reason is because his father is dying of cancer and is attempting an expensive homeopathic treatment. While dealing with the impending passing of this father and the decision to home school his kids. Aidan finds himself in an existential crisis, struggling to figure out why anything matters.
This is the type of film that will undoubtedly polarize most critics. Some will hate it for the heavy-handedness of the storyline while others will look past the melodrama and find a connection. Like Braff’s previous film, there are plenty of indie rock montages and deep one on one conversations, but I was buying every minute of it.
It’s a tearjerker for sure, but it’s still what could be considered a dramedy. Braff is funny, as is the entire cast, including an outstanding performance from Josh Gad, who plays Braff’s brother. Like Garden State the dialogue is smart and at times poetic, causing laughter one second and tears the next.
As Aidan attempts to navigate the waters of fatherhood, teaching his kids about life and death, a lot of humor comes from his interactions with the children. His daughter Grace (Joey King) is an ultra orthodox Jew who spends more time praying than learning to just be a kid. Tucker (Pierce Gangnon), the son, is an overly intelligent yet odd little kid, who carries a drill with him wherever he goes and appears to be a dreamer like his father. Both children do a fantastic job and are a joy to watch on screen.
Wish I Was Here is a well-made dramatic comedy that seems to be heavily influenced by Zach Braff’s real life experiences. The film plays out like a more realistic version of This is 40, with less filler and more serious subject matter. Some will find the dramatic elements a bit hard to swallow, but for me I found it to be incredibly touching and well worth the wait.