Zach Braff’s new directorial effort after 2004’s Garden State, is a film that many will warm to and others may feel is too sugary, but the end result is undeniably affirming. Braff, after finding success on TV’s Scrubs and becoming a very likeable screen presence, has managed to instil his films with the same inner vibrancy. True, this comedy-drama has its missteps, and the originality of the journey taken (and this chosen genre completely you could say) is in question, but for the many faults in Braff’s newest film, one thing it does accomplish is a sense of wondrous thought and charm. Taking a narrative subject often given to an actor of more advanced years (which does occasionally mean some older viewers will feel a bit like Braff’s lead is a bit young to be so troubled), Wish I Was Here tells the story of an aspiring actor, Aidan (Braff), who is at a crossroads in life; struggling to provide for his family and decide on his religious beliefs, whilst coping with his ill father.
The elements in place here are undoubtedly familiar and, from the offset, certain characters (the seemingly judgmental dad, the estranged brother, creepy work colleague) seem very by the book. Indeed, Wish I Was Here is not a film that surprises (though the opening is unexpected and the sci-fi adoration is a nice touch by a clear fan of the genre) but it is one that feels warm and, for many, may feel rather relatable. The sense of peril is not as strong as it could be and you are never made to feel like this personal journey will ever end badly, but that being said the pleasant characters do mean that you are mostly okay with the pleasantries. If Braff’s film has one big issue, it is (unexpectedly) that the dramatic elements of this story of reconnection and epiphany are stronger than the comic beats. That said, there are some smiles to be had, just not as many as you would expect – and some of the gags do not work.
In fact, this is a far more moving story in total and, for some of the missteps taken and the clustering of certain ideas, Braff’s film emerges as a very agreeable take on what it is to lose your way. Many may feel the religious elements are inserted in for effect, but the script makes fair use of this aspect as Aidan comes to term with his dad’s (an excellent Mandy Patinkin) illness and reconnects with him in the process. The film may well do things in linear fashion at points, but certain flights of fantastical adventure within mean that the film remains enjoyable and there is no doubt that its heart is firmly in the right place.
Braff’s direction is both adventurous and solid, but his lead performance is even better and he makes a fine core to the film, and although Kate Hudson, as his wife Sarah, seems initially like an extra aspect, she comes to have a far more moving effect on the story. Wish I Was Here, in terms of performance, is a very nicely-acted little film that has some of its own kooky beats within it’s overly familiar mid-life (or rather young-life) crisis plot. The film looks wonderful with its sun-drenched locations, and the music, though not as noticeable, gently accompanies the picture. All in all, if you go in expecting a feel-good picture that perfectly balances heart and humour you will only get some of that. This is indeed a feel-good film, come the climax anyway, and while certain things are lacking, you would have to be completely black-hearted to refuse the genuine sentiment and often moving moments the film displays. Wish I Was Here makes for worthy viewing and another good effort from Braff, even if it is not quite Alexander Payne.
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