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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 18 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 29
Braff's Here an honestly affecting place to be
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Braff's Here an honestly affecting place to be

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WISH I WAS HERE
Now playing


Aidan (Zach Braff) is a struggling Los Angeles actor who hasn't had a decent role since appearing in a dandruff shampoo commercial ages ago. His beautiful wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) has a well-paying job at the Water Department but her cubemate Jerry (Michael Weston) is a sexist foul-mouthed jerk who doesn't seem to understand just how obnoxious he actually is. The pair have two clever children in the form of Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), their tuition at the local Hebrew private school paid for by Aidan's judgmental and domineering father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

Admittedly, it isn't the life Aidan expected he'd be living, he and his younger brother - something of a minor genius, in actuality a rather lazy slacker - Noah (Josh Gad) dreaming as kids they'd be something akin to superheroes saving the world on a nightly basis. But when Gabe gets sick all of them are forced to put their lives in perspective, coming to grips with the fact that reality and fantasy don't always mix and that the dreams of youth often give way to the practicalities of adulthood - which, as Wish I Was Here takes great pains to point out, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, discovering the adult life one is living for what it really is can lead to astonishing revelations regarding family, love and commitment that are far more powerful than any dream or fantasy could ever live up to. Reveling in how we mature, understanding the relationships we take the time to establish and explore, learning to relate to one's children as affable generals leading them into a world of unlimited discovery, all of that and more can be there for the taking; making the decision to embrace the challenge and go for that particular brass ring the only choice that truly matters.

Written alongside his brother Adam, the film is Zach Braff's first trip back behind the camera since he released cult existential coming-of-age comedy favorite Garden State back in 2004. While the overall tone and emotional tenor has certainly matured, the motion picture itself offers up many of the same positives and minuses as its predecessor. Showing a knack for human insight, having an idiosyncratic, almost whimsical eye for creative detail, the filmmaker still can't resist slipping into sitcom pabulum from time to time, the narrative thrust sadly stalling out every single time he does.

All the same, when things work they do so marvelously. More than that, Braff has a gift for staging sublime moments of intimate, insightful maturation that are difficult to resist, showcasing Aidan's evolution with a knowing candor that hits close to home. The moments he spends with his two children are by far some of the strongest the film has to offer - one out in the secluded rock-strewn corners of the California desert outstandingly so.

The bits chronicling Noah's ineptitude and overall lackadaisical approach to life and what he wants from it don't resonate near as well as the other elements of the narrative do; and while Gad isn't bad, I can't say I found him particularly pleasing a presence, either. A supposed relationship with a ComicCon costume enthusiast (a massively underutilized Ashley Greene) goes nowhere other than to put an exclamation mark on a rather tired joke, while gags involving the brother's geek street cred are too obvious to be even slightly funny.

On the flipside, Braff's handling of Hudson is magical, the filmmaker reminding us all just how talented the former Almost Famous Oscar nominee truly is. After over a decade in romantic comedy hell, a confinement mostly of her own making, it must be said, the actress comes alive in ways I can't recall seeing in quite some time, making the most of every moment and every scene with magnetic enthusiasm. While what she says isn't always as insightful or as knowing as the Braff brothers hope it is, Hudson makes her lines connect with sparkling authenticity, a seminal moment in a hospital room between her and Patinkin downright stunning and deserving of every tear.

The movie made something of a minor name for itself for being the first high-profile project to be mostly funded via Kickstarter in the wake of the success of Veronica Mars, some trying to make the case a star and filmmaker of Braff's caliber shouldn't have to go this route in order to get his features off the ground. I'm more neutral as far as that debate is concerned, and if there are people willing to give money in order to see films like this come to life I can't begrudge them if they feel the need to donate.

More than that, I'm extremely happy to live in a world in which Wish I Was Here exists. Little missteps aside, moments of melodramatic excess notwithstanding, there is a pleasing sincerity to Braff's story I responded to body and soul. I was moved by Aidan's journey, found that it spoke to me far more often than it did not, his revelations having a profound simplicity to them I was thoroughly captivated by. I cherished my time spent watching this movie. More importantly, I can't wait until I get the opportunity to watch it again.

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