Zach Braff returns to the director’s seat, ten years after his debut film ‘Garden State’ was released, with a film that is a grammar Nazi’s worst nightmare of a title, ‘Wish I was Here’. ‘Wish I was Here’ is not a direct sequel to ‘Garden State’ but it can arguably been seen as its spiritual brother. Many themes that were examined in Braff’s debut film can be seen again in his latest offering that came to fruition due to a very successful Kickstarter campaign back in April 2013. As with ‘Garden State’, Braff stars and directs in this film but this time he shares the writing credit with his brother Adam.
‘Wish I was Here’ focuses on the life of Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) who is an out of work actor, trying to give his life meaning as his family slowly disintegrates around him due to the terminal cancer that his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) has contracted. Gabe is no longer able to pay the private school fees for Aidan’s children, which means that Aidan has to now home school them. Aidan’s wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is now the only source of income for the family, which she earns through a monotonous job at the Water Department. Sarah has chosen this career path in order to support Aidan on his quest to be an actor. Aidan has to juggle his father’s looming death, his failure as an actor, finding meaning in his life, educating his children and reconciling the strained relationship between his father and his brother Noah, all before Gabe dies.
‘Wish I was Here’ is a sentimental film that examines what the death of a parent can mean to an individual’s life, similar to ‘Garden State’. It does not delve deeper into the issue but looks at it with a new perspective. ‘Garden State’ was showing what an impact it can have on a twenty-something with no family. ‘Wish I was Here’ shows what it can mean to a thirty-something, who still needs to learn more from his father in order to be better parent to his children.
For the first twenty minutes of the film, fans are in for an abrupt shock when they first see Braff’s portrayal of Aidan. Aidan is a deeply unlikeable character when we are first introduced to him. Neurotic to the point of where he is emotionally neglectful of his children and he is somewhat pathetic in the way he chooses to live his life. These characteristics slowly dissolve throughout the film when Aidan finally learns how to be a well adjusted person with the help of his father’s mysterious guidance.
There are some Walter Witty-esque sequences throughout the film that Aidan uses to disconnect from reality. These sequences do not quite work that well. They come across as being very ambitious but in the end they do not add any depth to the storyline. Another folly that the film engages in are the vapid philosophical moments. The audience can sense them a mile away and they are largely clichéd with a Disney tinge shining from them. This was seen in ‘Garden State’ when Braff’s character Andrew was talking to the people in the boat near the canyon. That moment happens about three or four times in ‘Wish I was Here’ and can grow a bit tiresome.
These are only minor glitches in what is essentially a great follow up film for audiences that loved ‘Garden State’. Braff’s narrative is compelling and how you feel about the characters at the start of the film will change by the end. It is a bildungsroman film in the truest sense. The soundtrack that made ‘Garden State’ famous is repeated again in ‘Wish I was Here’. The sounds of the Shins, Cat Power, Coldplay and even Hozier, all feature throughout the film which will no doubt go on to be downloaded by every fan of Braff’s music taste. There are also some nice cameos throughout the film. Brown Bear Turk (Donald Faison from Scrubs), Jim Parsons and the late James Avery make an appearance.
‘Wish I was Here’ will not appeal to those who did not like ‘Garden State’. However, for fans that have waited all these years for Braff’s second film, they will be rewarded for their patience. Hopefully we will not have to wait until 2024 for Braff’s next film.
‘Wish I was Here’ will be in selected cinemas this September