Take a Drink: for each quirky moment
Take a Drink: during each montage
Take a Drink: during each indie moment
Do a Shot: during the awkward sex scene
Take a Drink: for each moment the soundtrack plays
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
For someone who is beloved by many, Zach Braff has taken a verbal beating over the past year. Ever since Braff announced he was funding his film via Kickstarter, many have been split on the approach. Some, like myself, support the idea and think Braff’s involvement of his backers in the behind the scenes making of the film was great to see, but many disagree. Braff got a great deal of heat for this, with many saying that he was rich enough to fund his own movie, and was instead unnecessarily taking money from others. This has caused many of his detractors to really go after him, posting negative articles and sharing gifs of Braff getting punched in the trailer.
To me, Braff took a lot of heat for no good reason. People may have disagreed, but those people did not have to go on a complete tirade against him. I also did not like that many were calling out his first film Garden State, not because it’s one of my personal favorite films, but because the film was generally well received before this Kickstarter campaign’s release. Now Wish I Was Here is getting largely trashed by critics, with it hovering around 40% on Rotten Tomatoes. While Braff’s follow up to the great Garden State has its fair share of flaws, Wish I Was Here is still a worthwhile follow up.
Wish I Was Here follows Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor whose life seems to be falling apart around him. His dad is dying, Aidan continues to fail to land parts, and his kids are getting kicked out of their private school. Now Aidan is forced to get his life together, having to home school his children and unite his family.
As I mentioned above, the soundtrack for Wish I Was Here is fantastic. Artists like Coldplay, Bon Iver, and Paul Simon lend their talents here, and the soundtrack is chock-full of great tracks. Most importantly, these songs are incorporated well, adding to the dramatic weight of some of the more dramatic moments in the film. The track “Raven’s Song” by Aaron Embry in particular is quite effective, and has been a track that has stuck with me even after seeing the film.
Like with Garden State, Braff and cinematographer Lawrence Sher shoot the film beautifully. It’s apparent that the duo have a very keen eye when it comes to filmmaking, with every frame having a great sense of detail and symmetry. Constantly throughout this movie there would be a shot or two that would just really make my jaw drop, as the duo are able to capture the same kind of beautiful shots that they did with Garden State ten years back.
Wish I Was Here also features some great performances. Zach Braff as the lead is as usual quite good, effective at both the more dramatic moments in the film and the comedic. The standouts, however, are Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin. Hudson gives her best performance since Almost Famous, disappearing in her role as Aidan’s wife and mother of two children. She has quite a few powerful moments, and is able to really deliver dramatically. Patinkin, on the other hand, is having quite a bit of fun in his role, delivering a lot of great one-liners, but also is able to be quite effective in the film’s dramatic moments. Other actors like Josh Gad, Joey King, and Pierce Gagnon also do a good job in their respective roles.
One of the major issues for a lot of people in the film is the script. Written by both Zach and his brother Adam, the script overall works quite well from both a comedic and dramatic perspective. Personally, there were quite a few great laughs in the film, even with some of the moments being quite juvenile. Braff has a knack for making comedic material work, and delivers some of the film’s bigger laughs thanks to his comedic talents. Then there are minor roles here for Jim Parsons and Donald Faison, who both are able to use their limited screen time to create some big laughs.
From a dramatic perspective, many are divided by the script and how it handles some of the bigger dramatic moments. To me, it seems like these dramatic moments had a great deal of inspiration behind them from the Braff brothers, which is what makes these moments work quite well. The script working hand in hand with Braff’s direction makes these moments come through with a great amount of weight, without making these moments over-dramatic or schmaltzy. Addressing issues like growing up and dealing with mortality were conveyed quite well, with a great deal of honesty. Not going to lie, a few of these scenes actually had me tearing up.
An aspect that has been attacked frequently with the film is some of the characters being too whiny, with both Aidan and Gad’s character Noah being very much selfish in their roles. For me at least, their motives and actions were logical, despite them being focused on themselves. Aidan’s chase to become an actor felt very understandable, as it was something that gave his middling life passion. Both characters, however, grow in a lot of ways, as Aidan focuses a lot less on his acting dream, and more on his role as a father and husband.
The script, however, still has some issues. One of the main ones is its overwhelming focus on the Jewish religion and culture. Braff really shows off his knowledge and personal experiences of being a part of the Jewish culture, but to me some of these moments felt like overkill. Some of these moments, especially, felt very much alienating, as my lack of knowledge for the lifestyle left me out of them.
One of the best parts about Garden State is its quirky moments and characters, which are able to create laughs but also add to the storyline. Here, the quirky characters and moments in the film felt a little too precious and disjointed. Characters like a Jewish rabbi who watches cat videos on Youtube and rides on a segway felt just out of place, as they did not add to the film dramatically or were not very funny. These side characters just did not feel like real people that would exist, unlike the side characters in Garden State.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Wish I Was Here is how messy the film is. Braff and his brother clearly have a lot of love for the characters and situations that they have created here, but there just seems to be too much going on. Subplots involving Noah going to Comic Con and trying to hook up with his neighbor, Hudson’s character Sarah dealing with possible sexual harassment, and Aidan’s visions as a hero of sorts felt very much expendable in the grand scheme of the film itself. These moments make Wish I Was Here too long, as its 112 minute running time felt a bit long-winded. Perhaps Braff should have allowed studios to edit down his film a bit more, because the nucleus here is still great.
Wish I Was Here is Braff’s second soul-searching effort as a director and writer, and while it does not reach the pure mastery of Garden State, it has quite a bit of honest moments to share with its audience. If you are a fan of Garden State, this latest effort from Braff is certainly worth a chance, even with critical reaction being for the most part negative.