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Wish I Was Here
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by Jaycie

"Stop the planet of Zach Braff, I want to get off!"
2 stars

Upon learning the title of Zach Braff's latest opus - Wish I Was Here, not You, not He, not She, not They, not We, but himself - viewers who had previously been subjected to Garden State and The Last Kiss most likely rolled their eyes and said "Here we go again." Yes, this movie does star the Braffster as a perpetually shell-shocked man-child who doesn't know he's a perpetually shell-shocked man-child. If not for that, though, Wish I Was Here could have been salvaged.

Braff is . . . OK, it doesn't matter what his character's name is, you're defaulting to "Braff" anyway. He has an acting career that's gone nowhere, no evident marketable skills, and little to no clue what his family members are actually like. He has a long-suffering wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), who loves him anyway despite his unforgivable ignorance of her daily life; two wisecracking children, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon); a judgmental father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin); and a brother, Noah, who's even more of a screw-up (Josh Gad). There. I just filled in six squares on your Stock Character Bingo Card.

The main plot is hard to determine. It's either 1) Braff's spiritual journey, 2) his inability to lower his pride to keep his kids in their beloved yeshiva when money gets tight, or 3) his struggle to keep what's left of his family together. All of these are meant to intertwine, but this is hindered by a scene from 1 leading with no transition into a scene from 2, barreling on to a scene from 3, only one of which ever gets resolved. If these three elements bothered to add up to something, it would be Zach Braff Needs to Stop Whining and Grow Up Which You Already Know But He Doesn't.

The screenplay has its moments. Refusing to get a damn job to feed his damn children, Braff takes up the task of homeschooling instead, and his first "class" is genuinely hilarious. Two of the strongest scenes in the movie are the conversations between other people: Sarah's entreaty to Gabe to bond with his sons before it's too late, and Grace's entreaty to Noah to bond with his father before it's too late. Unfortunately, its writers (Braff and his brother Adam) bog the rest of the script down with scarcely justified randomness. Why is he surfing all of a sudden? What's with those poetry recitals? Why does a girl committed to Orthodox convention wear a purple wig? Why does Braff keep fantasizing about that robot orb thing following him around? (Don't even ask.)

Patinkin and King offer up the best performances, the former near-flawless as a disappointed father facing death with wry humor, the latter showing enormous potential as a tween reconciling her Orthodox values with the onset of womanhood. Gagnon manages to temper his "precocious child" role with just enough boys-will-be-boys behavior to be convincing. Hudson and Gad are both unremarkable, and as for Braff, you could replace him with Ray Romano and nothing would be lost. In fact, I'm not sure they didn't.

Do we even need to bring up the soundtrack? You've heard of Paul Simon and Coldplay and that's probably it. I think he's been spending too much time with the music director at my old campus station.

The movie has garnered controversy due to its production being financed largely by a Kickstarter campaign, but this is no place to debate the politics of celebrity crowdfunding. The real trouble is that Braff used all those donations to make another thinly veiled public shrink session. He had the makings of a good story in place; as a Jew myself, I would have enjoyed seeing him figure out how commitment to the faith skipped his generation and try to learn what it's all about from his father and daughter. With equal billing, Patinkin and King could have saved the entire movie.

Alas, with Braff at the helm, it is simply not to be. Thus the viewer will wish they were elsewhere.

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originally posted: 07/26/14 12:04:27
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/31/14 David It tried too hard to be a cute feel good movie. 3 stars
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  18-Jul-2014 (R)
  DVD: 28-Oct-2014


  DVD: 28-Oct-2014

Directed by
  Zach Braff

Written by
  Adam J. Braff
  Zach Braff

  Josh Gad
  Jim Parsons
  Ashley Greene
  Kate Hudson
  Joey King
  Mandy Patinkin

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