By: Mark Di Stefano
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
The first time I saw Garden State I was 13-years-old. It was the first time I ever heard of writer/director Zach Braff, even though at the time he was more known as the lovable J.D. on the sitcom “Scrubs.” Even though I watched it at a young age, I could still tell that the film had it’s own identity. It was hard to compare it to anything else because I never saw anything like it before.
Ten years later I still hadn’t seen a film where it made me feel the same feelings I felt while watching Garden State. The only person who could do what Zach Braff achieved would be the man himself. Wish I Was Here, the latest movie from Braff, is in that same realm of his debut film, and at the same time, it’s own identity.
Braff, who co-wrote the script with his brother Adam, plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, husband and father who seems to be stuck at his own fork-in-the-road in life. His father announced that he has cancer and that he can’t pay for the private school tuition for Aidan’s kids. Now, grappling to deal with his ailing father, Aidan takes it on himself to homeschool his own children.
Now the film isn’t a sequel to Garden State per say, but both Aidan Bloom and Andrew Largeman (Braff’s character from Garden State) are actors who are both at a major point in their own lives. I thought that was an interesting comparison. That’s where the comparisons end though because to me, Wish I Was Here expands on those same tones explored in Braff’s first movie on a grand scale.
The cast here is great. Kate Hudson, who plays Sarah Bloom, has a knockout performance. Mandy Patinkin plays Gabe Bloom, Aidan’s ailing father, and his performance stands out among the rest. It was real, raw, and heartbreaking. It’ll be a shame if his performance is overlooked in the upcoming awards season. Josh Gad steals the scene whenever he appears as Aidan’s brother, a genius who lives out of a trailer and plays computer games. The kids are the soul of the movie. Joey King (Oz, The Great and Powerful) makes a breakthrough performance as Aidan’s daughter Grace, and Pierce Gagnon (Looper) was equally as terrific as Aidan’s son Tucker.
Zach Braff pulls no punches, in front and behind the camera. Braff brings to the screen one of his best performances to date. From behind the camera, every shot was as beautiful as the next, even in it’s darkest moments. Garden State had some camera movements that were iffy, but on this movie each shot flows into the next. Braff is only getting better. There were real, honest, heart-tugging moments throughout.
Sure, there were a few parts that I felt were maybe a hair too long in length, but by the end of the movie I didn’t really care. I was invested emotionally, and even spiritually, in every single moment of Wish I Was Here.
I never looked at Wish I Was Here as the first Kickstarter movie, although I’m sure it will change how films will be produced in the years to come. Wish I Was Here is a Zach Braff movie. He created his own way on how a film could be with Garden State, and his sophomore effort is proof that he is his own niche. Every person who watches this movie will resonate with it in one way or another. If I saw this movie ten years from now, I would still get those same chills from the first time watching it. Braff took a chance by asking the public to fund his movie. Would it be the same movie if he went through the traditional Hollywood route? We’ll never know, but Braff had to make the movie he wanted to make, and it was worth the risk.