With "Wish I Was Here," Zach Braff turns out a spiritual successor to his 2004 smash hit indie flick "Garden State," both movies about a drifting actor with middling success dealing with parental issues.
Directing, starring and co-writing with his brother Adam, Braff plays Aiden Bloom, a 35-year-old actor with few job prospects. He's married to Sarah (Kate Hudson, in her best role since "Almost Famous"), who is stuck in a crummy job with abusive co-workers. Aiden's young kids attend a Jewish school that one heartily embraces (Grace, played by Joey King) and one sleeps through (Tucker, played by Pierce Gagnon). His brother Noah (Josh Gad) is a shut-in with even more severe parental issues than Aiden.
The kids' private school is paid for by Aiden's dad (Mandy Patinkin, delivering a brave and powerful performance). When the movie begins, he tells his son that his cancer has returned and that he's going in for an expensive, experimental treatment and will be unable to pay for his grandkids' schooling any more.
With Aiden unwilling to send the kids to public school and with his wife's encouragement, he decides to home school the children. That takes Aiden and his family on a spiritual, though not necessarily Judaic, journey. There's a good chance you're going to be crying -- and laughing -- a lot.
Braff, who helped fund this film with a Kickstarter campaign, taps a lot of the same emotion and tone from "Garden State," from the tough father to The Shins' song "So Now What," which is part of the soundtrack. The bigger budget here brings unnecessary visual effects, including a floating robot in an imaginary sequence. At least it looks good, though.
If "Garden State" was a film about finding a connection and direction in the vast "infinite abyss" that is this world, then "Wish I Was Here" is about learning how to navigate your life once you find those things, how to deal with being an individual as well as a part of a whole.
I acknowledge that "Wish I Was Here" seems especially built for people my age -- dealing with aging, ailing parents, a growing family and maturing into middle age. It's not unlike my emotional connection to "Garden State," a movie that hit at just the right moment in my life. I look forward to growing older with Zach Braff and seeing where we go next.
Wish I Was Here
Directed by Zach Braff
Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Josh Gad, Mandy Patinkin, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon