Zach Braff’s ‘Wish I Was Here’ Coasts on Smarm
Published: July 16, 2014
There have been lots of words bandied about in critics’ circles following screenings of Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here. Here’s a smattering of the choicest cuts I’ve overheard:
“Twee.” “Dickish.” “Navel-gazing.” “Dull.” “Awash in its own ass juice” (I don’t know what that means, but it made me laugh). “An exercise in indulgence.” “A movie only a mother could love.” “Shitty title.” “Trash.”
To one degree or another, all those criticisms are true. (Especially the shitty title.) But, to paraphrase Piers Anthony, Wish I Was Here is my kind of trash, and I found parts of it incredibly affecting, even though I wonder whether Braff knows what a past subjunctive is (eh, he probably does).
And because Wish I Was Here is my kind of trash, I admit it may, in reality, be a total piece of shit. I wouldn’t know that, of course, as I was caught up in its smarmy splendor.
Note, I don’t hold out hope that Wish I Was Here will have legs. I watched Garden State (for maybe the third time ever) about a week before I saw Wish I Was Here. When it was over, I thought, “Why the FUCK did I ever think this was a good movie?”
Garden Sate is so cute and precious and—yes—twee. Its soundtrack is vacuous, save for Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You.” Its writing is one-note and its performances are skin-deep (especially Natalie Portman’s, but perhaps that can be blamed on Braff the screenwriter/director, who makes her character announce outright that she’s weird).
So what is it that makes Wish I Was Here tolerable, sometimes even worth a laugh or a tear? Mandy Patinkin, for one, who plays Braff’s father. He’s in perfect asshole mode. Something about watching a song-and-dance man play a total prick is invigorating. He does more acting acrobatics in a hospital bed in this movie than he does wielding a sword in The Princess Bride.
Then there’s Kate Hudson, one of the least likable actors of her generation, doing some genuine acting and being good at it. She plays Braff’s put upon wife who’s out earning the dough while he chases his dream of being an actor. She and Patinkin have the single best scene in the movie, and though the writing—Hudson encourages the dying Patinkin to make nice with his sons—borders on cliché, Hudson pulls it off in a way that makes you think, “Hey, a guy with an incurable illness might actually be moved by this stuff.”
It’s too bad the heart of the story in Wish I Was Here is so familiar—Braff’s character, Aidan, is the struggling actor who learns to live and be responsible as his father dies—because the film could have been something more than a footnote in the great Kickstarter debate. There’s a decent cast, including Josh Gad as Aidan’s emotionally at-sea brother, Noah, and Alexander Chaplin as a good-humored rabbi who speaks the language of the agnostic Jew.