The best kinds of movies are the ones that get inside you. They get inside your mind and your gut, and after you watch them you want to talk about them, and think about them, because you simply want to keep feeling them. Maybe it's the way you relate to the story, or the energy that comes with a rich, fascinating concept, but that connection -- whatever it's tied to -- is pretty much the reason why we'll never stop watching movies. We need to experience them. And in some cases, we need them to guide us in our own lives; past our own issues. Sometimes the most powerful movies are the ones about the mundane complexities of everyday life: its struggles, its heartbreak and its endless array of unspoken truths.
In Wish I Was Here, Zach Braff returns to filmmaking after a 10-year hiatus with a sort of spiritual sequel to Garden State about a father of two wrestling with the responsibilities of leading his family without really ever knowing how. Braff stars as an out-of-work actor whose inability to land a gig becomes a major life-altering issue when his father (Mandy Patinkin) is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and can no longer afford to pay for his grandkids to go to a private Jewish school. With his wife (Kate Hudson) now tasked with being the sole provider of the household and his kids (Joey King, Pierce Gagnon) in need of schooling for the rest of the semester, our frenzied father decides to homeschool his children while he figures out the best way to just keep moving forward.
Like Garden State, Wish I Was Here deals with themes of love and loss, but Braff's writing and filmmaking has matured considerably in those 10 years. If Garden State was the fun, quirky date movie, then Wish I Was Here is the long, hard-fought marriage movie. With Braff's brother Adam (who's also a father of two) in the mix as cowriter, the duo deliver this insightful, emotional, hilarious tearjerker that deconstructs what it means to be a father, a brother and a husband.
While a little repetitive and meandering (particularly when it comes to a subplot involving Braff's Comic-Con-loving brother, played by Josh Gad, that never feels like it completely fits), Wish I Was Here is ultimately at its strongest when it's about utilizing the power of family to get through life's toughest obstacles. In typical Braff fashion, the eclectic and moody soundtrack serves the material well, and the filmmaker's ability to fund much of the project on Kickstarter allows Braff to inject the film with a ton of personal touches, specifically its many poignant scenes involving Jewish culture and the lengths we go to find answers through spirituality.
This is most definitely a movie that plays to the emotions of its everyday situations, which to some may come off as schmaltzy and over-the-top, but it's really not. There are so many independent movies that attempt to deal with the same ideas of being stuck in a transitional moment of your life, but rarely are they as eloquent and accessible as Wish I Was Here. If you're the type who wears their heart on their sleeve, then expect that sleeve to be drenched in tears, especially if you've just dealt with the difficult passing of a loved one, or if you're also someone who's stuck between achieving their goals and doing what it takes to raise a family.
It took 10 years for Zach Braff to make another movie after Garden State, and not because he wasn't any good as a filmmaker, but I get the sense it's because he just didn't have anything to say. With Wish I Was Here, he says a lot of the things we don't, and confronts a lot of the feelings we tend to shy away from. It's honest and funny and well worth the experience. I'd gladly wait another 10 years if the results are just as rewarding.
Note: The above review was first published following the film's January premiere at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
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