Film Review – Wish I Was Here
Wish I Was Here
There is a sub-genre that has become a staple of any year: the indie comedy. The comedy movie that, while being funny, deals with some darker issues, has an abundance of quirky-but-realistic characters, and sometimes creates its own offbeat reality that we can fall into. This is one of the hardest films to navigate, keeping these balances going through the film. While director Zack Braff had a handle on this in Garden State, here that instinct seems to have abandoned him in his latest project, Wish I Was Here.
Our entry point is Aiden (Zack Braff), a failing actor who hasn’t had a steady job since he did a dandruff commercial, who drifts into fantasies of being a spaceman like he used to do when he was a kid. He doesn’t work enough so his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), is the breadwinner, but she is having issues with a crude co-worker. His dad, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), is dying of cancer and cannot afford to send Aiden’s children, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), to Jewish school, so Aiden is going to try to home school them. Aiden also has a genius brother, Noah (Josh Gad), who lives in a trailer and barely interacts with anyone, and has deep issues with his father. He is more devoted to the idea of making a costume to impress a girl at Comic Con than being involved in any of the drama around him.
With all that is going on, I kept thinking throughout, what exactly is Zack Braff trying to do here? What does he want to get across? We move from character to character having different issues and moments and it never builds to anything. It isn’t even a glimpse into a life with its messy moments so much as moments with whatever character Braff wants to focus on because it’s who he decided to have act that way in that scene. There was no central defining idea about who these people are so it is never clear how a scene should be read.
Some of these confusing moments really stood out. Grace is defined as a budding teenager who is very smart, but also a devoted Jew who is upset about being taken out of school. She cuts her hair because her dad mentioned she would be pretty even if she was bald. Both these events seem to be a big deal to her and then are thrown aside with little information given as to how she has adapted to her new situation. Or Aiden, supposedly becoming a better teacher when he doesn’t seem to be teaching them anything, just spouting random advice and having them make the backyard presentable and then cut to montage moments of them all together. This doesn’t show him as a strong teacher, and there is never an effort to show how it helps his children deal with the issues in their lives. Then there is a scene with Gabe talking with Aiden about Noah, and Aiden says every time they talk it always ends up being about Noah. This didn’t happen before and doesn’t happen again, it was the film trying to make this an issue without showing us how it is an issue.
The film is full of these kinds of situations, which begin to take away from any emotional depth or insight it wants to make, even affecting the acting. Braff’s performance as Aiden has him running around with an unconvincingly angry face at the beginning and then falling into philosophical moments, but even then seemingly not that into what he is doing, which is odd since this is his movie. Mandy Patinkin has some strong scenes but then he is dying, which helps give him and Braff some chemistry, but feels like it is too little, too late when it happens. Hudson and King have some moments, but, like everyone else, are hamstrung with the structure of the film holding them back from making a real impact.
Thinking back on the film, whole sections of the middle appear so unnecessary to where we ended up, and with nothing learned from the characters in that time, it makes the boredom of those moments seem much worse in retrospect. Now, the one other aspect is the humor, and, while he gets in a few good visual gags, I laughed maybe twice during the whole thing. There really was nothing to look back on with joy. Even a cameo of Jim Parsons as a fellow actor was wasted.
Braff seems to not know what he wants to do and I am not certain what the problem was. Did he have too many ideas at once? Was there a lack of time to pull all these things together? Did there need to be some stronger editing? I don’t know, but whatever the reason, it leads up to the simple fact that this was a sadly dull film.