Wish I Was Here
Review by Daniel Rester
I’m an odd one out in ways in reviewing Wish I Was Here for I have yet to see Zach Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State (2004). Calm down, haters, I will get on that as soon as possible. State has garnered quite the cult following over the years, and many have been eagerly awaiting his follow-up feature. That feature now comes in the form of Here, a film writer-director-star Braff partially funded through Kickstarter; the film was also co-written by Braff’s brother, Adam.
Controversy has been surrounding Here because of the Kickstarter campaign, with some questioning whether the movie deserved the funds. I have also heard that Braff copied quite a few ideas and visual elements from State in crafting Here. Stripping all of that away, I went into Here with an open mind – wanting to judge the film itself on its own terms.
Here follows Aidan Bloom (Braff), a struggling actor who lives with his family in Los Angeles. His wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), is the breadwinner of the family, working a dead-end job punching data into computers. His kids, Tucker and Grace (Pierce Gagnon and Joey King), attend a private Jewish school.
Things begin to turn upside down for Aidan when his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), learns that his cancer has returned. This soon enters Aidan’s estranged brother, Noah (Josh Gad), into the picture. With his failing career dream, his father’s condition, and his general family struggles, Aidan must examine his life and where it is going.
Braff’s film covers some familiar ground and is all over the place with its subplots, which sets the film up to fail. Others may be less forgiving of the film because of such things, but I found myself emotionally engaged and interested in the characters enough to look over some of the film’s missteps. Braff piles on seemingly everything: boyhood fantasy elements, sexual frustration between a husband and wife, school issues, a backyard pool problem, difficulties with a dog, a Comic-Con costume contest, a sexual harassment subplot, etc. The movie is overstuffed and contains some holes because of this (where does the dog go halfway through the picture?). Yet Braff and his cast strike a sincere note all the way through, making some of the mismatched subplots work.
The story strength through the middle is small, but this one is more about the characters. Braff plays Aidan well, making him likable despite all of his issues. Hudson, Gagdon, and King are sweet, too. The scene-stealers, though, are Gad and Patinkin. Both bring a lot of humor and heart to the table and make it look easy.
A lot of the dialogue the actors speak is sometimes too silly or sentimental, but an equal amount of it feels real and is deeply felt. One scene involving Hudson and Patinkin is particularly effective, showing that Braff can handle heavy drama pretty well in certain cases. The relationship between Gad and Braff’s characters is believable as well, with the two actors hitting just the right amount of tension between the two brothers.
Braff does a fine job behind the camera for the most part. He and cinematographer Lawrence Sher provide smooth tracking shots and intimate close-ups, and the capturing of Los Angeles is done well. The soundtrack is also satisfying, featuring some acoustic tracks that really compliment the images; some of the tunes are too sugary, but most of music comes across fine.
Here is uneven and feels lengthy, with some things feeling out of place and other things feeling underwritten. But the characters all have attributes to them that give them personality. I enjoyed the bittersweet feel of the movie and Braff’s visual touches. And although the film’s messages about family values and facing fears are a bit heavy-handed, they worked on me. So, despite its obvious flaws, I recommend Here for the heartfelt factors that do work.
Score: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).
MPAA Rating: R (for language and some sexual content).
Runtime: 1 hours and 46 minutes
U.S. Release Date: July 18th, 2014 (limited).