Three stars. Rated R, for profanity
By Derrick Bang
A little of Zach Braff goes a long way.
He directed and co-wrote this film, sharing scripting credit with older brother Adam. The brothers also can be found among the 15 producers, co-producers, line producers and executive producers — just in passing, can we finally admit that the jockeying for “producer” credit has well and truly gotten out of hand? — and Zach also stars.
Perhaps more tellingly, crucial funding was provided by the 46,520 backers who contributed to a Kickstarter campaign, so that Braff had the creative freedom to cast, shoot and cut the film precisely to his specifications. He likely found it reasonable to assume that the lion’s share of these crowd-funding supporters were fans who’ve followed his career since TV’s Scrubs: No surprise, then, that Braff has rewarded this loyalty by playing a character whose mannerisms and line readings look and sound much like that show’s Dr. John “J.D.” Dorian.
Which isn’t a bad thing, as long as one enjoys the by-now-very-familiar Braff shtick.
Braff has been dubbed the New Jersey Woody Allen, and with ample cause; the younger actor/filmmaker delivers a similar blend of chatty social ineptness and Jewish angst. Much of Braff’s dialogue has the cadence and timing that one would expect from a stand-up act: less a dramatic performance, more like stepping out of the character in order to make a wry observation about life, the universe and everything.
But not consistently, in the case of this film. At times, we get the Zach Braff from Scrubs, delivering a line with the wheedling, precious, little-boy inflections of an adolescent trying to talk his parents into serving ice cream for supper. Alternatively, Braff retreats from that artifice and attempts to be stern and serious, now wanting to persuade us that he really is capable of handling this script’s solemn topics with an appropriate level of thespic skill.
Doesn’t work. Braff’s signature tics and hiccups are so thoroughly a part of his performance, that he never succeeds in becoming anybody other than himself. Which is a shame, because when he gets out of his own way, Wish I Was Here makes some thoughtful observations about family estrangement, seizing the day, and death with dignity.
Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, a 35-year-old struggling Los Angeles actor who relies on wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) to keep things together financially. He’s blithely unaware that she chafes under the soul-sucking sameness of her public service job, believing instead that she’s cheerfully content to keep supporting “his dream.”
They have two children — teenage Grace (Joey King) and grade-school Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) — who attend a private Jewish day school courtesy of tuition payments made by Aidan’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin). Aidan’s long-estranged bachelor brother, Noah (Josh Gad), lives a withdrawn life in a house trailer by the beach, and is regarded as a total loser by their father.