Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language and some Sexual Content
Directed by: Zach Braff
Written by: Adam J. Braff, Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Jim Parsons
It might bear some relevance that I confess to having never watched GARDEN STATE and being in no way familiar who Zach Braff is. The main reason I bothered to see this Braff’s second directorial effort was because I thought it could be a possible WALTER MITTY of 2014, a feel-good experience that slipped under the radar. WISH I WAS HERE is a superficial feel-good movie. It’s sure to manipulate some viewers into being uplifted and loving every second that passes after sitting through it, but nearly every aspect of the movie seemed insincere. Sometimes, Braff tries to make a full-blown comedy and other times it’s a would-be tear-jerking drama, there’s no cohesiveness between the two genres that needs to exist for a dramedy to work well. It’s not as if the movie is all-out terrible. There are some things that I did enjoy (more on those later), but the entire project is passable at best.
Aidan Bloom is a middle-aged struggling actor/frustrated father. Faced with the news that his overbearing dad is dying of cancer, Aidan tries to piece his life together and find true happiness. This is made difficult by having to temporarily home school his children and deal with his unsatisfied wife. Aidan is served a nice dose of reality and must rise to the occasion to make the best of bad situations. That’s pretty much the general plot of WISH I WAS HERE and the movie does aim for the slice-of-life narrative. However, the slice being served isn’t very tasty.
One problem that Zach Braff’s second full-on directorial effort suffers from is the uneven script. The blame squarely lies on the shoulders of Zach and co-writer Adam Braff. The first 15 minutes of the movie suggests that Braff is aiming for a Apatow-like comedy with real life problems thrown in. The overuse of the word “fuck” becomes very apparent in the first five minutes of the film as well and this is an example of bad cursing. When I can notice the swearing sticking out of the plot and actually becoming an annoyance, it’s swearing for the sake of swearing. For example, I didn’t have any clue that WOLF OF WALL STREET actually broke the F-bomb record because the swear words were so well-integrated into the rest of the dialogue. In WISH I WAS HERE, it feels like an attempt at a cheap laugh or pure shock value to show a little kid cursing. There’s also an overbearing Jewish sensibility present throughout the film. It’s almost as if Braff feels that poking fun at his faith will equate laughs and profound thinking, but it feels just as desperate as the out-of-place cursing. The movie doesn’t have the mix of drama and comedy down either. The drama comes off as very heavy stuff (bound to make people, who legitimately like this movie, cry), but the comedy is super light and fluffy. It didn’t mesh well at all.
Further problems arise from Zach Braff’s Aidan being a bit of a jerk. Though it may have been part of the story being told, it’s really hard to feel for a guy who comes off as outright condescending. He’s a struggling actor not giving up on his dream, even though he sees the stress it causes his wife as the sole financial supporter of their household. Kate Winslet is good in her role, but also forced to deliver some rather heavy-handed dialogue that belongs in a Lifetime channel movie. Her lines didn’t completely work for me, though it may work for others. The dying father (Mandy Patinkin) is unsympathetic as well and doesn’t necessarily get the viewer rooting for Aidan or the rest of the family making amends with him. The cliché of naïve socially awkward kids is also run into the ground, though I did actually laugh during a few of their scenes. Without a doubt, Josh Gad is the best actor and character here. It’s too bad that his performance is actually sidelined for most of the movie. Following his character in this situation would have made for a more enjoyable, funny, and heartwarming movie. Jim Parsons (also known as Sheldon on THE BIG BANG THEORY) pops in for a cameo performance (three whole scenes), but makes the most of what he’s been given.
WISH I WAS HERE never fully knows which route to take in the serious content too. It’s generic as hell, but the movie tries many different things and abandons these concepts just as quickly as it attempted them. There’s one pointless moment that tries to throw in a faith-based message about God being anything you want him to be, but nothing built to that delivery or came after it. It was a scene purely for covering that ground. One thing that kind of works in the movie’s favor is Aidan dreaming of himself as a space warrior. It’s relevant to his childhood imagination and how his life hasn’t quite turned out the way he expected it to be. This was one of the few angles that did work for the most part. WISH I WAS HERE gets overly sappy in the final third and doesn’t quite know when to shut the camera off (the last montage runs far too long).
For a story about finding happiness and turning your life around, WISH I WAS HERE is underwhelming and bland. There are a few good qualities (Josh Gad and Jim Parsons, along with some funny moments), but I can’t say I was ever emotionally involved. The movie feels too forced and resorts to corny scenes that are geared at manipulating the viewer’s feelings in the most basic ways. It’s predictable, cheesy, and has a clichéd narrative that frequently bored me. I could make a bad pun like Wish I Watched Something Else (which is no doubt what some other critics out there have done), but the movie does have some solid qualities. In the end, it feels like a bad attempt at a worthwhile picture.