BWW Reviews: Zach Braff's WISH I WAS HERE is Cliche, Snuggles Into Your Heart; Opens Today in NY, LA
There is nothing all that original in WISH I WAS HERE, Zach Braff's new Kickstarter-funded film which sparked a minor controversy earlier this year. However, the story's familiarity doesn't distance itself from its audience, instead it serves as an opportunity for the story to snuggle its way into your heart. Themes of family, following your dreams, disappointment, and identity are, by no means, unfamiliar territory for films, especially those of the independent variety, but Braff handles these topics with such honesty and respect, that it all feels slightly revolutionary. The film's mix of humor and heart will hit the sweet spot for Braff's GARDEN STATE, SCRUBS, and even BULLETS OVER BROADWAY fans. However, I'm not completely sure that those not predisposed to liking Braff's work will appreciate the film's slightly over-saturated sentimentality.
Braff, who directed and co-wrote the movie with his brother Adam, plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor father of two (FARGO's Joey King and EXTANT's Pierce Gagnon). He is married to Sarah, played by Kate Hudson, who is the family's current bread-winner. Aidan's father, played by Tony and Emmy-winner Mandy Patinkin, informs his son that he can no longer afford to send his grandchildren to their expensive private Hebrew School, because he must pay for an experimental treatment to fight his recently returned cancer.
The patriarch's increasing illness and the kids' sudden removal from their structured lives leads Aidan, and each member of his family, to examine who they are, what they want, and in what they believe. Tony-nominee and FROZEN star Josh Gad plays Braff's underachieving genius brother, who must come to grips with his father's disappointment before it is too late.
Though the actors playing the men of the Bloom family all deliver extremely touching performances, it is Hudson who has the greatest impact. Her Sarah is exceptionally well drawn; pulled between her desire to support her husband's dreams and her responsibility to find her own. It is this performance that makes the Blooms feel like a real family amidst their growing cliche problems. Though the finale is the obvious tear-jerker, Hudson's scene alone with Patinkin, for me, was the most impactful; honestly hitting on themes that are all too often only used to score emoitnal points on screen.
Despite the heavy themes, Braff finds ways to mix in little moments of magic; be them through fantasies, homemade Comic-Con costumes, or elderly rabbis not sure how to operate a Segway. Also adding to the fun are Emmy-winner and Broadway vet Jim Parsons, TWILIGHT star Ashley Greene, and Donald Faison, Braff's SCRUBS co-star.
Braff's directorial debut, GARDEN STATE, won a Grammy for its mix-tape collection of classic and indie songs, and I feel as if the music in WISH I WAS HERE was one of the movie's highlights. However, I can see how some might find that aspect of the storytelling to be a bit manipulative; the rising underscoring never missing an opportunity to wring out one last drop of empathy.
It's always dangerous to assume that you know someone based solely on the art that they create, but with this film, you seem to see to the heart of who Braff is. In the movie, Patinkin's Saul assures his family, "there will be time," all the while you feel Braff asking, "What if there isn't? Who would you be if you were running out of time? What would you do; and whom would you do it with?" All important questions, no matter where you are.
For a sneak peek at Zach Braff's WISH I WAS HERE, co-starring Kate Hudon, Mandy Patinkin, and Josh Gad, check out the trailer below:
I WISH I WAS HERE is Rated R for "language and some sexual content." It opens on Friday, July 18th in New York and Los Angeles before expanding over the following two weeks.