Wish I Was Here is the movie that Zach Braff partially funded from Kickstarter. He wanted to do that so he could make the movie he wanted – and it’s several steps up from his decent but not quite wonderful Garden State. This is a movie about a man who has wake up and realise that his dream – which he has followed most of his life – needs to be adjusted to the realities of his life with his family. It’s another coming of age tale about a man-child. It’s also pretty good.
Aidan Bloom (Braff) is a married, middle-aged man who has been following his dream of being an actor with little success while his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) works away as a data inputting cubicle drone. He is under the mistaken impression that she loves her job because she has accepted being the family breadwinner to allow him to follow his dream. At first glance, one might think that Aidan (and Braff) has a sense of entitlement – the man gets to follow his dream and that’s the way the world works. But that’s not the case.
Actually, Aidan is a classic case of Peter Pan Syndrome. He’s never really grown up. For that reason, he’s more a third kid than a dad – cussing and swear jars notwithstanding.
Then the family hits a financial crisis. Aidan’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) has stopped pay for his kids – Tucker (Pierce Gagnon, Looper) and Grace (Joey King, Oz the Great and Powerful, Fargo) – to go to yeshiva and it looks like they will have to go the local, not so hot, public school. Why has Gabe stopped paying for the kids’ schooling? Because he’s dying.
It’s time for Aidan to grow up. He gets off to a bad start by trying to home school his kids – he’s pretty bad at it. To compound the family’s problems, Sarah is subjected to sexual harassment by the clod in the next cubicle at work – and Aidan’s effort to get the guy to stop is painful to watch.
And we haven’t even gotten to Aidan’s brother, Noah (Josh Gad), whose life plan is to use the money their mom left him to live in a trailer on the beach and play video games for the rest of his life. As much as Aidan hasn’t grown up, Noah has refused to grow up.
Slowly, though, Aidan begins to get it together and, with the help of Tucker and Grace, he starts figuring out that responsibility thing – without emotionally scaring them. An encounter with a fellow wannabe actor (Jim Parsons) at an audition comes back to him in a way that changes his dream in a way that will help everyone – well, except for Noah. Noah’s path as a nerd takes a different path – an unexpected but surprisingly cool one.
Braff co-wrote Wish I Was Here with his brother, Adam J. Braff and it feels real enough that I can say, ‘I know that guy!’ The dialogue is sharp enough to provoke laughs and thoughtfulness and Braff gets a performance from Hudson that is almost as good as Almost Famous. Which is to say, it’s the best work she’s done in decades.
Gagnon is good as Tucker, King takes what could have been a stock tween sister in Grace, and given her an emotional resonance that matches Hudson’s work. Braff and Gad are completely believable as brothers and Patinkin is perfect as the more than slightly astringent father who learns to lighten up just when it seems like it might be too late.
As a director, Braff has definitely grown since Garden State. He definitely gets the rhythms of the dialogue and general pacing better, and gets some terrific performances from his cast. The result is a gentle family dramedy that would be perfect family viewing if not for the unfortunate tendency to drop F-bombs for no other reason than punctuation.
What becomes of dreams? It seems they change.
Final Grade: B