Movie review: Zach Braff's 'Wish I Was Here' is worth seeing

Fri. July 18, 2014 11:18 AM by Gregg Shapiro

Those waiting for the proper follow-up to Zach Braff's amazing directorial debut Garden State will have to wait a little longer. His new movie, Wish I Was Here (Focus), doesn't get us there. In the tradition of the Coen Brothers' A Serious Man, Jill Soloway's Afternoon Delight and Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child, Wish I Was Here is a "Jewy" (a term used by Soloway) dramatic comedy about questioning everything from religion and the existence of God to family and responsibility to careers and personal happiness, and more.

Failed actor Aiden (Braff, who played gay in 2000's Broken Hearts Club) and his half-Jewish wife Sarah (a decent Kate Hudson) send their daughter Grace (Joey King) and son Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) to yeshiva, a private school whose tuition is paid for by Aiden's father Gabe (a restrained Mandy Patinkin). But things are about to change. Gabe, whose cancer was in remission, is sick again. This time it looks worse than before and Gabe's unable to continue being Aiden's kids' benefactor.

With that as the backdrop, Aiden has to make serious life choices. Does Aiden give up his dream? Do they send the kids to public school or home-school them? Can Aiden get his socially awkward genius brother Noah (Josh Gad of The Book of Mormon) to make peace with their father before he dies? These are just a few of the somber issues facing Aiden.

The trouble is that Braff can't decide just how serious he wants to be here. It's an important decision because he is dealing with heavy and emotionally draining material. But Braff begins things on a high comedic note, in a scene involving an overflowing "swear jar", followed by another amusing scene at an audition where he runs into Paul (out actor Jim Parsons in what is a subtle nod to Garden State). What we are left with is indecisive self-indulgence with moments of authenticity (the hospital scene with Grace and Gabe, for instance) and wayward wackiness (oy vey, there's an ancient rabbi on a Segway!). An admirable, if overly long achievement, Braff also deserves praise for the way he works modern poetry into the film. Wish I Was Here is worth seeing if you don't go in with great expectations.