With kickstarter as in with life, you get what you pay for.
“Wish I Was Here” is the latest passion project from Zach Braff who directs and stars in a movie about a man lost in his own family and in trying to understand the man he is and wants to be. And if that sounds a little basic for a movie playing alongside transforming robots and spandex clad superheroes, well welcome to late summer when the independant movies start peeking around the corner to see if its safe to come out and play. So can Zach succeed by bringing us a movie that emphasizes character and story over pixels and explosions? Well, maybe.
First off, I actually like Zach Braff. I think he’s funny, charming, and extremely clever. Garden State is a great example of that and there is much of that same charm and humor here. There’s this matter of fact, adult sense of humor that he plays with that allows him to emphasize both the fun of life and the way it can seemingly beat us down. And he’s surrounded by some stellar performances as well. Kate Hudson is wonderful, Josh Gad is incredible, and even the two kids are completely believable and fun. But it’s Mandy Patinkin who steals the show. His turn as the patriarch to these boys and the pain of those relationships is somehow heart wrenching and heart lifting at the same time. And I think it’s all made possible by a movie that isn’t afraid to have a keen sense of humor along with the depth of its metaphor. You’ll find yourself with a huge grin one moment and contemplating a deep thought about life and love the next.
Ironically though, it’s that love of a good metaphor that eventually brings the movie down quite a bit. There’s just too much. The abundance of metaphorical exploration seems to bog the movie down and confuse exactly what we are supposed to be learning. Like I said Braff is an extremely clever writer, but I wonder if that cleverness may have been the undoing of this story, making the end product feel too long and not tied together with any kind of key philosophical through line. I mean I think we are supposed to be focussed on the idea of what it means to be a hero versus embracing the normalcy of your life, or maybe about it’s about re-finding lost joy, or maybe it’s about working through fear to understand the people you love.. you getting the picture? There’s just too much here and the focus seems to get lost. Plus it makes for a muddled ending when there are so many different emotional journeys to try to resolve. It’s honestly not that any of those ideas or stories weren’t worth exploring, only that the beauty of the forest gets lost when you focus on too many individual trees.
At the end of the day, Braff has created another fun and hearfelt drama with a lot of depth and meaning and an incredible performance by Mandy Patinkin. If only it had just a little more thematic focus maybe it could have grown into more than a C+