Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor with no prospect of a job on the horizon, and a young family. When his father (Mandy Patinkin) announces he is dying – and can therefore no longer financially support him – Aidan must find a way to connect with his family and the life he has built around himself.
Famously funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Wish I Was Here is the long awaited follow up to Braff’s 2004 film, Garden State. Braff was criticised for asking his fans for money – in much the same way singer Amanda Palmer was before her Kickstarter campaign became the highest funded music project on the site – but he was not the first to do so (Veronica Mars, anyone?) and he almost certainly will not be the last.
Braff plays Aidan with a lovely blend of tenderness and frustration, both of which ebb and flow as the film progresses. Braff also manages to capture the feeling of a man who is amazed at how his life has turned out, and the seeming lack of control that he has over his destiny. Kate Hudson takes a welcome step away from her recent roles in rom-coms, and makes Sarah a warm and patient woman. Joey King and Pierce Gagnon play the Bloom kids, and each bring their own insecurities and strengths to the role. Braff and Hudson interact well with the kids, making this chaotic family dynamic believable. Mandy Patinkin channels previous roles as the gruff father figure, but there are flashes of genuine warmth and emotion that make the process worthwhile, and Josh Gad plays the man-child incredibly well.
The story, written by Braff and his brother Adam, may feel chaotic at times, and as though too much is being thrown at Aidan, the central character. The truth behind this chaos, however, is that life is not ordered or tidy, and often when one thing goes wrong, others quickly follow suit. Braff and Braff capture the family dynamic incredibly well, and there are moments of genuine warmth and fun throughout. The sci-fi sequences fit less well with the story; it is clear what the Braffs were trying to do in making Aidan the hero of his own life, but these sequences happen too infrequently to work properly.
As director, Zach Braff directs with the same careful hand that was evident in Garden State; the emotional scenes are treated with tact and care, the performances are strong and, while some of the montages and scenes set to music feel a little more like music videos than movie scenes, this is what we have come to expect from a ZB big screen outing. The songs are great too, which helps. Braff himself is not afraid to play a grown up character with flaws and traits that make him less than perfect, which help him to shake off the remnants of Scrubs’ man-child JD.
At times, Wish I Was Here is slightly more self conscious than Garden State, but in the end, it is a film filled with warmth and heart. The family scenes are a joy, and it is clear that this cast and crew bonded through the unconventional manner in which the film came together. There are elements to the film that don’t always work – Josh Gad’s character could easily have been cut entirely – but Wish I Was Here is a decent follow up to Garden State, and as warm and engaging as Braff fans could hope.