There are those who love the work of Zach Braff, and those who don’t. From his hilarious and often heartfelt turn as JD on Scrubs, to his generally acclaimed directorial debut in Garden State, he has surprisingly divided fans and critics. Some people believe that he is able to capture emotions incredibly well, and others feel that he is too weepy and introspective.
Wish I Was Here is his second turn behind the camera, in another film that he has written. And it is excellent. Especially those who are fans of Garden State, Wish I Was Here is a must see. Sure, it does not veer off the path that was set up and established in his initial film, and much of the emotional baggage that his character carries along with him is similar. But it is an honest film, and it is emotionally great.
The story revolves around Aidan, an out-of-work actor trying to get any job by going to auditions for terrible roles in terrible shows and films. He lives with his wife (played incredibly well by Kate Hudson, who is calm and cool, tinged with the right amount of cynicism and emotion, that she in a way, reminds us of what a grown up and bitten by the real world Penny Lane could be like), and two children, who need to be pulled out of their private school, since his ill father can no longer afford the bill. Aidan makes the decision to home school his children for the remainder of the semester, until they can figure out what to do with them. His fears of public school has scarred him enough that he doesn’t want his own children to go through the same pain that he experienced growing up.
With his father dying, played incredibly well by Mandy Patinkin (known best from his role on Homeland), it is up to Aidan to hold his family together, and try to bring back his estranged brother to his father on his deathbed.
There are so many things going on for Aidan all at once, and he is weighed down by the responsibility of so many things at the same time. The pressure of his failed dream, the financial pressures he faces with no work, the burden put on his wife as the sole breadwinner, working in a job that she can’t stand, and where she is forced to deal with sexual advances from a co-worker, the difficulty in dealing with his quirky, shut-in brother, his ailing father, trying to teach his kids something about the world, and being the one relied upon to keep it all together makes for a traumatic period in his life. It is a lot for one man, let along Aidan.
The best part of Wish I Was Here is the acting performances. They come across honestly, and believably. The film is scattered with good actors, and they all do the emotional trauma justice, and Aidan is forced to come of age, and come up with one more act of bravery for the good of his family. Across the board, including the children, offer strong and emotional performances, which better than anything, are believable.
As with anything involving Zach Braff, there is a strong soundtrack that goes along with the film, filled with emotional indie music from bands on the cusp of being big. Consider how popular the soundtrack was to Garden State, and you have the right idea.
Not everything works perfectly in Wish I Was Here. There were some directorial choices that could be seen as questionable, and somewhat amateurish, but in all, Braff is a steady director, and he knows what he wants in order to bring his own words and performances to life. He directs with care, and is able to encompass the emotional instability of his characters through his style.
There are many small parts to the larger story line in the film, but they all work together extremely well, and they never seem like they are set up and left behind. Braff does an excellent job in his script to provide all of his characters with problems that require a solution. This is not easy to do, especially in a film that is only two hours long. But he manages to do it seamlessly, and by the end, the audience is likely to care about the plight of all the characters.
Wish I Was Here is a sad film, with droplets of humour and fun, and emotional saving. It was an excellent watch, and definitely recommended for those looking for something that is eventually uplifting after a lot of struggle.