Ten years ago, Scrubs actor Zach Braff followed in George Clooney’s footsteps in becoming an actor-turned-director. His debut feature, Garden State, premiered in Sundance Film Festival and became a cult hit due to its increased popularity on home media. Now, he is taking up the director’s chair once more with one of the notable film-related successes on Kickstarter.
Wish I Was Here follows Aidan Bloom (Braff), a struggling father, actor and husband. While his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) strains under the role of breadwinner, Aidan discovers that his father, Gabe, (Mandy Patinkin) has fallen ill and is unable to continue paying for his grandkids’ private education. Unwilling to enrol them into public school, Aidan decides to home-school his kids and in doing so, discovers what to do with his life.
Aside from the smattering of supporting roles he has had over the last ten years, Garden State continues to stand out as a career landmark for Braff after it made more than $35m at the box office. However, it is strange that a credible actor/director had to turn to a crowdfunding site and his fan base to finance his second film. He was successful in this almost amateur approach, as he was able to raise $2m to produce his feature in an astonishing three days, which speaks volumes in terms of his popularity.
Wish I Was Here takes the traditional concept of the normal mid-life crisis and doesn’t excessively try to cover the cracks with plastered smiles and inappropriate jokes. With his brother Adam, Braff puts together a relatable story that makes Aidan’s dilemmas all the more realistic. From growing up to moving on, there is a sensitivity that runs throughout the film. Even during the lighter moments with Josh Gad, who plays Aidan’s nerdy brother Noah, there is an emotional element that strikes a chord in even the most nonchalant viewer.
All of the cast perform their roles well. Braff is incredibly likeable as Aidan and despite being slightly underused, Hudson puts in her most sensitive and touching performance since her breakout role as Penny Lane in Almost Famous. The standout performance is undoubtedly young Joey King, who, as Aidan’s studious daughter Grace, shows that not all pre-adolescent girls are attention-seeking, shallow and obsessed with celebrities.
As a director, Braff manages to transfer the same familiar, independent feel from Garden State to the sun-kissed coast of California. The whole movie is beautifully filmed, thanks to the extra credit of being shot on location, and with such a mellow jukebox soundtrack in the background, Wish I Was Here ironically feels like one huge cinematic escape from life and its troublesome problems.
Overall, Wish I Was Here is beautiful, touching and sensitive without over-exaggerating its dramas. It is quite possibly one of the best films of 2014.
Director: Zach Braff
Writers: Adam J. Braff, Zach Braff
Stars: Zach Braff, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon
Runtime: 106 min
Wish I Was Here was released in cinemas 19th September 2014.