Director: Zach Braff
Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, Mandy Patinkin.
Back in the early 2000's Zach Braff took one of the lead roles in a new medical comedy called Scrubs. In the time between starting this new job and leaving his previous job Braff wrote his first feature film. The indie favourite Garden State was born. Now Braff is back in the writers (and directors) chair with his latest offering, Wish I Was Here.
The films are quite similar. Both films focus on an individual that is at some sort of junction in their life. Both main characters have decisions that need to be made and lessons that need to be learned. In Garden State Braff played Andrew Largeman, an actor with some success who, after the death of his Mother, makes choices about how he lives his life and the relationships he has. In Wish I Was Here Braff plays Aiden Bloom, a struggling actor whose Father becomes ill which prompts Aiden to make decisions about his life and the relationships he currently has. Maybe its a case of write what you know, as any English student will tell you.
Aiden Bloom (Braff) is, as we have already found out, a struggling actor. He is yet to make his break into the acting world. He attends audition after audition but still has not surpassed the success of an anti-dandruff shampoo advert. Aidens wife, Sarah Bloom (Kate Hudson) is the breadwinner of the family. Her unsatisfying job with the Waterboard supports their two children Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King) and Aidens dream. Life is not what either of them had expected or planned for.
When Aidens father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) becomes seriously ill with cancer Aiden begins to re-evaluate his life. Grace and Tuckers tuition at their Jewish school can no longer be funded by Gabe, who needs to fund his own treatment so Aiden takes them out of school to home school them. But is it Aiden that learns the lessons?
One of the aspects of both of Braffs films is that the emphasis is on plot, character and dialogue. There are no heavy and distracting visual effects. This films are simple and rely on the characters and plot development to draw you into the film. To this extent Wish I Was Here is relatively successful although arguably not so much as Garden State was. The character of Aiden can be difficult to like at times. He has left his wife to support the whole family, in a job she does not want and where she gets sexual harassment from a colleague. Braff manages to give Aiden an innocence and sensitivity that helps to identify and almost sympathise with him. Almost. You do however get the impression that the point of Aiden is that he grows as a person and you are supposed to like the person he becomes at the end of the film. Again, there is a sense that this is done slightly better in Garden State.
Both Hudson and Patinkin give admiral performances. (Is it us or does Hudson get more and more like her mother as time passes?). She injects strength and integrity to Sarahs character and she and Patinkin offer one of the most emotion evoking and poignant scenes of the film. Gagnon and King give strong performances as the offspring of Adien and Sarah, with Gagnon portraying an innocence that fits the film well. Kings character of Grace promotes a sense of self identity and inner strength that is admirable, although sometimes slightly 'holier than thou'.
The film utilises both humour and sentiment to carry us through Aidens journey of discovery. At points the lessons he is learning can be a little cryptic and hard to see. There are some beautiful moments in the film but plot is occasionally overshadowed by the films desire to be poignant and meaningful. The films heart is not so much worn on the sleeve as shoved in your face at certain points. It may of benefitted from taking a slight backstop from trying to evoke emotion and employed a little more simplicity.
It is unfortunate that the release and production of the film was clouded by the financing technique used by Braff, whereby he advertised for fans to fund the film via donations. That said, the film holds its own. It may not be as strong a contender as Garden State in the indie film category but it is sincere and honest. There is a whiff of being a film that tries too hard to be a film that makes you think, but fans of Garden State will enjoy it. Give it a go, and see how many life lessons you learn along the way.