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:: Wish I Was Here

Back in 2004 the cinematic world was hit by a sleeper hit called Garden State. The film came out of nowhere and was directed by a man that most referred to as ‘that idiot from Scrubs.’ The film took Sundance by storm and soon had a crazy cult following. It seemed to herald ‘that idiot’ Zach Braff as the next big indie filmmaker, but despite the success of his debut Braff hasn’t exactly been biting at the bit to get his next film onto the big screen. Yes he’s directed a few episodes of Scrubs and a television movie in between but it has taken a decade (and a KickStarter campaign) to get his next feature, Wish I Was Here onto the big screen.

Aside from writing and directing Wish I Was Here Braff also stars in it. Here he plays Aidan Bloom, a 35 year old father who dreams of becoming an actor, but the roles are few and far between and if it were for the fact that his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) was working full time there would be no food on the table for their children Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). The financial hardship that the family is struggling with is then made even harder when Aidan learns that his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) can’t afford to pay for the children to keep going to an exclusive Jewish school. Aidan decides that he should home school the children but the a further family crisis means he is confronted with the fact that he has to try and bring the family all together, even his estranged brother Noah (Josh Gad) who is hard work to say the least.

Braff has noble ambitions with Wish I Was Here, once again he seems to become the champion of low budget filmmaking as he attempts to make a film with feeling, with stars attached with very little studio money. Instead this film is funded by the 46,520 people who chipped in $3 million on KickStarter. And for the most part the film works. The screenplay mixes a nice touch of humour with something deeper. At the heart of Wish I Was Here is a character piece, a film where a man who has simply lived for himself now has to become a real man for his family. It is deep and has meaning, but Braff certainly doesn’t set out to send his audience into a spate of depression so he breaks it up with some humour that works part of the time but also misses a beat here and there as well.

At times it almost feels like Braff puts too much into this film. There seems to be an overload of themes – things such as ‘what does it take to be a man in 2014,’ ‘what does it mean to be a father in 2014,’ ‘should a Jewish family send their children to a Jewish school’ and ‘why is life so hard for a budding actor.’ Throughout the film these themes seem to stay strong for a while but then just peter out, a classic example being the early push on Grace attending a Jewish school even though it is obvious that Aidan feels like a lot of Jewish practices for women are archaic.

Those that despise Zach Braff though are going to find very little to like about this film. Braff may be playing Aidan but there seems to be a lot of Zach Braff to Aidan’s character as well. As for the rest of the cast neither Kate Hudson or Josh Gad are severely tested in their roles, although young Joey King is a real standout throughout the film. Braff’s black book also gets a serious workout with small roles being filled by the likes of Twilight’s Ashley Greene, Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons and the final acting performance from the late James Avery.

Wish I Was Here bubbles along and while you are in the cinema watching it is an enjoyable experience. Having said that though it doesn’t feel like the kind of film that you are going to rush out and tell your friends about or a film you’ll be dying to watch again. To be blunt it is good not great, certainly no Garden State.