The highly anticipated follow up to Zach Braff’s cult classic Garden State has finally arrived: fans rejoice! Wish I Was Here sees Zach Braff directing, starring in and writing alongside his brother Adam Braff in a kind of follow-on from the themes explored in Garden State about discovering ourselves and where we belong in the big ol’ world. Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, a thirty-something actor struggling to get the work he needs to provide for his wife and two kids. When Aidan’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) announces that he’s fallen ill and can no longer afford to pay his grandchildren’s tuition fees, Aidan is forced to home school his kids, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King), for the remainder of the semester. With no knowledge of geometry or the school curriculum, Aidan takes a different tack and attempts to teach his kids the same life lessons that he needs to re-learn himself.
The opening scene of the film sees Aidan running through a forest clad in a futuristic space suit, a hovering gizmo-robot at his side and a dark, hooded figuring pursing him from behind. This is the tell-tale sign that you’re in for something a little bit whimsical, a little bit imaginative, and totally on-par with what we’ve seen of Braff’s creative style. Braffs seems to enjoy playing with the idea of the surreal and how the mind interprets the world, as opposed to how the eyes perceive it. This style isn’t for everybody, but it is something that is present throughout the entire film, so audiences will need to get on board with this dream-like quality if they are to enjoy Wish I Was Here. At times this rose-tinted feeling can get a little over-indulgent, but I personally find Braff’s style of film-making a totally engrossing form of escapism that really takes you away from your own life and sucks you into those of the characters on-screen.
Arm yourselves with waterproof mascara and tissue boxes people, because this one is a major tear-jerker. As much as this film is a comedy, it is in equal amounts a tragedy, with incredibly emotional results. It’s the amazing performances given by all the cast that make it so heartfelt, but particularly Mandy Patinkin as the father just trying to do right by his sons, and surprisingly Kate Hudson as Aidan’s wife. Joey King and Pierce Gagnon as Grace and Tucker Bloom are both hugely entertaining and convincing child actors, while Josh Gad as Aidan’s brother, Noah, has one of the most emotional scenes in the movie.
The comedy is also very present, and for Scrubs fan’s one of the most enjoyable will be the scene where Donald Faison, Braff’s Scrubs co-star and bromantic life partner, makes a cameo appearance. The humour is relatively original and again matches the standard of what we’ve seen of Braff’s work so far. Braff has also injected his awesome and incredibly broad taste in music into the soundtrack, which only adds to the air of magical whimsy that surrounds this movie. The soundtrack features originals from Bon Iver, Cat Power and, of course, no Zach Braff movie would be complete without The Shins. While the editing did appear a little disjointed at times, the film was beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher of Garden State fame.
Wish I Was Here has been met with mixed reviews so far, but as someone with a huge appreciation for Zach Braff and his work, I really loved this film. I think fans who have been eagerly anticipating this movie’s release will be happy with the result, particularly those who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that funded it’s creation. While maybe a little soppy and corny at times, Wish I Was Here is still a movie to get totally lost in. Let The Shins track roll…
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