Here’s a smattering of the choicest criticisms I’ve overheard regarding Zach Braff’s Wish I Was Here: “Twee.” “Dickish.” “Navel-gazing.” “Dull.” “Awash in its own ass juice” (I don’t know what that means, but it made me laugh). “An exercise in indulgence.” “A movie only a mother could love.” “Shitty title.” “Trash.”
To one degree or another, all those criticisms are true (especially the shitty title). But, to paraphrase Piers Anthony, Wish I Was Here is my kind of trash, and I found parts of it incredibly affecting, though I wonder whether Braff knows what a past subjunctive is.
In addition, I don’t hold out hope that Wish I Was Here will have legs. I watched Garden State again before I saw Wish I Was Here and thought, “Why the FUCK did I ever think this was a good movie?”
Garden State is precious. It’s cute. Its soundtrack is rotten, save for Colin Hay’s “I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You.” Its writing is one-note, and its performances are skin-deep.
So what is it that makes Wish I Was Here tolerable, sometimes even worth a laugh or a tear? Mandy Patinkin, for one, who plays Braff’s father. He’s in perfect asshole mode. Something about watching a song-and-dance man play a total prick is invigorating. He does more acting acrobatics in a hospital bed in this movie than he does wielding a sword in The Princess Bride.
Then there’s Kate Hudson, one of the least likable performers of her generation, doing some genuine acting and being good at it. She plays Braff’s put-upon wife who’s out earning the dough while he chases his dream of being an actor. She and Patinkin have the single best scene in the movie, and though the writing borders on cliché, Hudson pulls it off in a way that makes you think, “Hey, a guy with an incurable illness (that’s Patinkin) might actually be moved by this stuff.”
To wit: Struggling 30-somethings with youngish kids face mortality and life challenges when the family patriarch (and family checkbook) learns he’s dying. After some humorous shenanigans with the kids, the main character and his brother learn something, and the husband and wife learn to love each other the way they used to.
Snore. Patinkin’s gravitas (aided by an enormous beard) goes a long way in making Wish I Was Here watchable, and when he’s not on screen, the movie sort of dries up. For all Braff’s improvements as an actor, the moments when he has to carry things without another adult present are tougher, because it doesn’t seem like his kids are really his. Whether that’s a function of the limitations of his performance, the screenplay, his direction or some combination of all three is a mystery, but it doesn’t bode well that the mystery is sometimes more engaging than his acting.
It’s too bad Wish I Was Here isn’t better. The film could have been something more than a footnote in the great Kickstarter debate.
WISH I WAS HERE
Directed by Zach Braff
With Braff, Hudson, and Patinkin