When I was in high school, Garden State was my everything. The soundtrack to my life, the theme to my moods, the dream I aspired to achieve. I lived my life as an indie flick, staring blankly at an invisible camera and taking long, dramatic pauses in my thought patterns. I idolized Zach Braff and everything he did. Cut to nine years later and I was still giddy with excitement when I heard Braff was writing, directing, and starring in a new film. I avidly watched his Kickstarter video and waited patiently for this new release. I am acutely aware of Braff’s style and the attitude that surrounds him. He is painfully artistic and self-aware and aims to be the filmmaker of his time. Some people dig it, some people hate it. I happen to adore it.
Wish I Was Here stars Braff as a middle-aged father who lacks direction. He is an out of work actor, an alright father, an alright husband, an alright son and brother. Supremely average. His wife, played by Kate Hudson, does wife-things and works. Her character is difficult, she is cursed with the “hot wife” role and doesn’t contribute much else. She is, unfortunately, misused. His children (one played by the creepy kid from Looper) attend Hebrew school and struggle with differences most siblings face. The daughter, so passionate about her heritage and faith and the son, rambunctious and playful. They steal the show. Josh Gad, who plays Braff’s brother, is extremely underused and is given the most poignant parts of the film. Braff’s father, played by Mandy Patinkin, becomes the central plot as the family deals with his cancer and how it will soon kill him.
Going in, I was expecting the usual Braff-flair. Deep, moody, long shots set to an incredible indie soundtrack. The soundtrack doesn’t disappoint (So. Much. Indie.), and his direction and script turns your predisposed belief on its head. The film overall, much like the lead character, lacks direction. For each moving and serious moment, there is an equal and opposite wacky one. A rabbi on a segway, comic con cosplays and colorful wigs. Wish I Was Here takes a common, daily struggle most of us face (impending demise of a family member, financial and marital struggles) and tries to remove the mundane aspects of it and help you realize to appreciate even the mundane. We often forget about simple filmmaking and storytelling. There are no outlandish plots or incredible characters or miraculous outcomes in this movie. Everyone has a struggle, let Braff show you this particular one and help you sort out your own.