‘Wish I Was Here’ not all there

‘Wish I Was Here’ not all there

By Karsten Burgstahler

Director Zach Braff has a thing for indie music. He populated his 2004 film “Garden State” with hipster-cred pieces, and his new movie “Wish I Was Here” (Rated R; 106 Min.) demonstrates that preference a little too well.

The soundtrack’s first song, The Shins’ “So Now What,” answers its titular question with the resounding phrase “I guess we just begin again.”

It’s an apt description for Braff’s overall film, funded like a student film (on Kickstarter) and presented like one. The director, who also stars as the lead character Aidan, shrugs his shoulders and throws a bunch of vague concepts at the wall in hopes one will resonate with viewers. He deals the audience plot strands involving religion, death, sickness, beauty and vulgarity but, to our frustration, never says anything substantial about any of these ideas. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of “Seinfeld:” despite its pokes at plot development, it’s not really about anything and it’s full of characters who are likeable even when their actions are detestable.


Aidan is an aspiring actor who never gets hired for anything and says things like “I thought you wanted to support my dream!” to his wife Sarah (a never-better Kate Hudson), who works a miserable job in order to provide for her kids and is sexually harassed by her cubicle partner. Because the movie ascribes a child’s perspective to the material, we see Sarah’s office as the manifestation of boredom in a pale pallet of greys with the occasional florescent light.

Aidan learns his dad’s cancer has returned and he can no longer afford to send the kids to their Jewish school. Aidan then homeschools his kids, and the remainder of the film follows Aidan as he takes the kids on field trips that are really more like an attempt to escape from certainty of his father’s demise.

It certainly sounds like downtrodden material, not really something one would flock to on a Friday night. But Braff takes the term “dramadey” to a new level, trying to find humor in religion and the afterlife while also respecting it. Maybe. It doesn’t do a lot of good to try to figure out what Braff wants to say because he switches gears so often.

So here’s the twist: “Wish I Was Here” is enjoyable in its own way. That really has nothing to do with the script quality. It’s all about the wonderful cast Braff has assembled, beginning with himself.

Braff’s Aidan is a complainer whose story arc actually allows him triumph without having to change much about his life. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It’s because there’s something genuine about Braff’s performance. He clearly wrote it with himself in mind.

As said before, Hudson is excellent as Sarah. Joey King is a standout as Aidan’s daughter Grace, who takes drastic measures to prove how unique she can be. Mandy Patinkin is good, as always, as Aidan’s father Saul. Josh Gad has a smaller role as Aidan’s brother Noah, but he has an interesting storyline. Noah is a genius who chose to whittle his life away trolling Internet posts. He has a full, triumphant arc. In fact, a movie concerning only his story might’ve been better. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole here.

It wouldn’t be fair to readers to leave this review with the same indifference Braff’s script presents to the audience. So here’s a firm opinion on the film: see it. Just don’t expect to see much into the mind of the man behind the curtain. He only wishes he was there.