Zach Braff is such a likable person that we feel we know him. With his new film, “Wish I Was Here,” he plays off that familiarity and offers up a subversively genial story. Braff brings to this a masterful grasp of tone. He is not giving us a typical foray into mainstream comedy. It’s not even a typical foray into independent “cinema.” There’s more heart in this film than you might expect delivered in what one would hope is developing into Mr. Braff’s signature style. You have a common thread running from this new film and 2004’s “Garden State” and that is the universal need to love and be loved, to make sense of the world, and to rise to the occasion.
The unplugged sensibility to this film must have inspired the whole cast as we find excellent performances throughout. Mandy Patinkin gives us a performance that hits some high notes. He is particularly good in a scene he shares with Kate Hudson, his daughter-in-law. It brings to mind the great chemistry he shares every week with Claire Danes on Showtime’s “Homeland.” Hudson keeps it real, with minimal makeup and one of the most down-to-earth performances she has given.
This brings us back to Braff who plays a not entirely likable character. As if addressing his public persona, he gives us a youthful character who is maturing with new challenges ahead. His character, Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, is not exactly a stellar role model but it’s complicated and makes for an interesting exploration of a man’s role in society, balancing his passion with his responsibilities.
Aidan is a man caught in the middle who is only slowly coming to realize what he needs to do to rise to the occasion. His father is dying. That happens to mean that he can’t pay for Aidan’s daughter and son to continue to go to a private school. It’s a yeshiva, which was actually Aidan’s father’s idea and never went over that well with Aidan to begin with. And, by the way, when was the last time a relatively big “mainstream” film addressed Jewish traditions, culture, or anything? Like, almost never, right? Can you say “Yentl”? So big kudos to Braff for giving us something real at that place where you slurp soda and munch on popcorn.
Braff really should be given a lot of credit for banking on his name and status to create something tangible and worthwhile. Those charming elements attached to Braff are all there. His character remains a nice guy, even with his flaws. There are a few goofy interludes and you’ll find a fair share of pop music snippets but they’re done with good timing. You have here what you could call a “dramedy,” if you happen to like those soul-sucking labels. I prefer to think of it as offbeat and earthy. Maybe we see that more in Europe. It’s about time we see more of that in the States.
It really is no surprise that this film is the result of a hugely successful Kickstarter campagin. Fans believe in Zach and this film honors their loyalty. Make more movies, Zach!