When Adian (Zack Braff) discovers that his father will no longer pay for his children’s private school because he has terminal cancer, Adian is forced to make hard decisions about his life, while reexamining beliefs and lifestyle choices.
In 2004 when Zach Braff, the smart-ass newbie doctor with a quirky heart of gold, released Garden State it was a wholly unexpected film. Somehow this TV actor (in a time when TV actors got little love) had managed to capture the mid-twenties crisis of identity, emotion and independence many of us were feeling and launch it onto the screen fully formed. (Lest we forget one of the great indie soundtracks of all time.)
Then, after a few missteps in choosing roles, Braff disappeared from the movies almost entirely. Now, 10 years later, he’s back in the writer/director chair again with Wish I Was Here and he has, simply put, done it again. Wish I Was Here nearly perfectly encapsulates the crisis many thirty-somethings are feeling; we don’t have it all figured out yet, we don’t know what we believe, we struggle with wanting fulfillment but recognize that doesn’t pay the bills, and our parents believe we are squandering our lives and responsibilities.
Wish I Was Here is not a film made for critics, and critics will by and large hate it. It’s uneven. It’s a bit directionless. It has a strange sci-fi element that doesn’t completely work. Wish I Was Here is a film made for moviegoers. They will recognize that the directionlessness is actually the point and that it matches perfectly the journey the characters are on.
With his cast, however, Braff seems to have worked some kind of magic. Every single character in this film could have been a cliché, and in fact, they were cast that way. Kate Hudson is the lackadaisical California girl, but Braff reigns in her plucky comedic side and brings out one of her best performances to date. Mandy Patinkin has made playing judgy paternal figures his bread and butter in recent years, yet between the script and Braff’s direction, he manages to be three dimensional rather than cookie cutter. Joey King who has played Generic Child #1 in blockbusters like The Conjuring and White House Down becomes a full human in this film, capable of going toe-to-toe with cast members like Braff, Patinkin and Josh Gad.
All of this is not to say the film is devoid of the kind of cheeseball corny ending Braff served up in Garden State. In fact, it could be said that’s the majority of this film, but as with its predecessor, the film just wouldn’t be quite right without it, so just take a deep breath and remember that you love corny movies that bring a tear to your eye, because everyone does.