REVIEW: Wish I Was Here

16 07 2014

Wish I Was HereZach Braff’s “Wish I Was Here” caught a lot of flak for raising additional funds through crowdfunding on Kickstarter, so I found myself watching the film with an especially sharp eye on how the budget was being spent.  My friend and I found ourselves, perhaps cynically, coming to the conclusion that Braff was using the fans’ money on less necessary frills like a Maserati or the sporadic CGI-heavy sci-fi reveries.

Yet if these somewhat excessive flourishes are what it takes to get an otherwise deeply felt movie like this made, I will make that trade-off every day of the week.  “Wish I Was Here” is an uncommonly thoughtful dramedy about life and death, a breed of film that has sadly become an endangered species.  What Braff crafts is something akin to a Woody Allen film scored to the Bon Iver Pandora station.

That’s not to say, however, that Braff has quite the effortless mastery of Allen’s best.  He doesn’t quite grasp the often tricky economy of ensemble comedy, bungling subplots involving Josh Gad and Kate Hudson.  And at times, the film gets a little bit uncomely in its wild fluctuations of tone.

But even so, “Wish I Was Here” is rather endearing.  Its brand of messy is a lifelike one, not a lazy or sloppy filmmaking one.  Braff throws everything he’s got against the wall – I like to believe it’s everything he’s been thinking in the decade since “Garden State” – and not all of it hits.  What does stick, though, teems with such raw and poignant emotion that it’s easy to overlook the film’s faults.

Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here

Braff inflicts a trajectory on his screen persona, Aidan Bloom, not unlike those doled out so cruelly by the Coen Brothers.  “Wish I Was Here” often resembles “A Serious Man” put through an Instagram filter as Aidan suffers a tremendous series of blowbacks in his life.  As if his own flagging career weren’t torturous enough, his father (Mandy Patinkin) announces not just a terminal diagnosis but also his yanking of funds for Aidan’s children to attend a nice parochial school.

With all these sea changes looming in his life, Aidan finds himself pondering some rather deep philosophical questions about life and death.  And in his search for answers and meaning, Braff does not forget to look up towards a higher power to shed some light.  Mainstream movies rarely give the subject of our mortality much serious consideration, and when they do, they almost entirely omit any deliberation of religion or spirituality.  No matter what you do or do not believe, “Wish I Was Here” feels remarkably authentic in its portrayal of human beings getting down in the mud and grappling with the uncertainty of what it all means.

Braff doesn’t necessarily surface with any grand answers, for are any truly possible?  But he delights in allowing this line of thinking to lead Aidan and his family towards appreciating what they’ve been given as well as having fun while they can.  “Wish I Was Here” is consistently inconsistent in achieving that intent, though its beautifully realized moments of bliss are enough to outshine those lesser scenes.  B2halfstars



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