Wish I Was Here – Film Review

Zach Braff's Kickstarter-funded dramedy is a self indulgent therapy session

Scrubs star Zach Braff raised $3million on Kickstarter to help fund Wish I Was Here, his second big-screen outing as director. The campaign’s huge success angered some critics, who accused Braff of abusing his fame by pleading poverty on a site designed to give a leg-up to first-timers. Braff countered that he had sunk plenty of his own money into a “passion project” too precious to pimp out to a nasty studio who would dictate the final cut in exchange for their corporate megabucks. This way, he argued, he could make the film as he saw fit, and bring fans along for the ride.

Whatever your take on whether Zach was indeed having a Braff with his Kickstarter ruse, our money is on diehard fans coming away from Wish I Was Here feeling like it was a sound investment. For the rest of us, it’s more like paying to sit in on a man’s 106-minute therapy session – more of which in a minute.

Braff plays struggling, thirtysomething actor Aidan Bloom (no relation to the struggling, twentysomething actor he played in his debut, Garden State, starring Natalie Portman). Bloom starts home-schooling his kids after learning that his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is ill and can no longer afford to pay their private school bills. He must also try to reconcile Bloom Sr with his other son, kid brother Noah (Josh Gad), and convince wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) that his acting dreams are still worth pursuing, even as his kids end up footing the bill.

This all adds up to about 20 minutes of jokes followed by an hour and a half of life lessons soundtracked by the likes of Cat Power, Coldplay and Bon Iver. Now, we’re pretty well used to the notion that American cinema is fond of attaching bogus morals to even the simplest gags. But Wish I Was Here takes it to navel-gazing extremes, presenting a world in which supporting characters exist only to facilitate Braff’s (sorry, Aidan’s) growth as a human being, up to and including his weirdly precocious kids (Aidan: “I’m not unhappy!” Child, after meaningful pause: “You are”).

The frustrating thing is Braff handles the funny stuff well – we first meet Noah, Aidan’s layabout brother, trolling pop stars on Twitter (“@mileycyrus: eat a bag of dicks”), and Patinkin all but steals the show with a few sly lines as patriarch Gabe. But then we get scene after scene of mawkish drama, like the one in which Aidan, in a sequence so quirkily earnest it almost works as satire, take his kids on a road trip to “the spot where I last had an epiphany”. An epiphany? Seriously? We feel sorry for the kids.