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Wish I Was Here – Movie Review

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Wish I Was Here – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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When an actor directs, writes and plays the leading role in a movie, there’s the possibility it could turn into a vanity project to stroke their own ego. With its questionable funding, Zach Braff’s latest directorial effort could have fallen down that path, but the final result is a sincere and funny story. While the marketing is selling Wish I Was Here as an niche indie project, it is actually a rather commercial film whose themes and messages will appeal to a larger audience than maybe the distributor seems aware. It’s a smart script that simply wants to tell about this family’s struggles in a way that’s lighthearted but not condescending or schmaltzy.

The biggest positive is the family dynamic. Even though the characters are far apart in some places, it is still evident that they’re a close-knit group and the screenplay, written by Braff and his brother Adam, features some great conversations between them. The funniest scenes typically involve Braff’s struggling actor Aidan Bloom dealing with his children. The contrast between his offspring is particularly humourous, with his son Tucker being bored by his religious private school and daughter Grace completely invested in her education. While it’s played for laughs, Braff does not shy away from the struggle he faces in wanting to help his children and their future. There is a genuine kinship between them and it does not take long to buy him as their father. His relationship with his wife is very sweet and it is refreshing to see Kate Hudson take on a role like this again, a far cry from the romantic comedies that have consumed her career for the past decade or so. Those who have been waiting anxiously to see Hudson give a performance worthy of the promise she showed in Almost Famous will happily find it here.

A lot of the emotion in Wish I Was Here is mostly seen in Mandy Patinkin’s role as Aidan’s father. Slowly dying of cancer, the heartbreak is nicely portrayed on the screen without hammering it in. The humourous remarks made by Patinkin elicit laughs, without getting in the way of the seriousness of the situation. Zach Braff’s direction is smart as it never crosses the line into either strangely inappropriate comedy or trite TV-movie-of-the-week. The same applies to Josh Gad’s role as Aidan’s smart but unmotivated brother. Gad has his usual comedic deliveries, but he also does a great job at showing the sadness and fear of potentially losing his father. This relationship between the brothers and their father really helps in making certain scenes hit the right emotional bulls-eye. Those who have watched somebody wither away will find plenty to relate to in Wish I Was Here.

Wish I Was Here has a surprisingly religious theme running through the film, but none of it is preachy or hammered in. Braff taps into his Jewish upbringing, both for humourous purposes and to explore the messages. How Grace and Tucker identify with their Judaism shows the choice of which path you may want to lead, but if you find something that connects with you, that’s fantastic. However, while religion can be helpful in guiding your life, you still need to make your own decisions that help you and your family. The first three letters of Aidan’s name are appropriate as he needs to “aid” his family through this troubled time before his own desires and sometimes life does not necessarily give you a handout. Charity (or “tzedakah”) will come when you most need it, not necessarily when you want it.

Through its humour and heartbreak, Wish I Was Here has a genuine sincerity to it. Zach Braff seems to put a lot of his own personal touch into his film, without making it into a vanity project. He has amassed an impressive cast who all deliver, even ones like Jim Parsons who find themselves in smaller but still worthwhile parts. Braff hasn’t directed a feature film since Garden State ten years ago, but if Wish I Was Here is any indication, he still has a very good future ahead of him directing personal stories that reflect his current place in life.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison