On the Silver Screen – Wish I was Here
Zach Braff directs and co-writes Wish I Was Here, a film that he had funded on Kickstarter. Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a 35 year old man who finds that his life isn’t going the way that he planned and is forced to examine his choices when a pivotal event tests him and his family.
The film plays out as something of a coming of age story that comes a little late in the character’s life. Braff’s Aidan Bloom is an unsuccessful actor who is struggling to keep himself together while raising two kids with his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson). Sarah is forced to work a job that she hates doing work that is entirely unfulfilling while Aidan pursues his dream of being an actor. Unfortunately for them his dream is going nowhere as his last starring role was in a dandruff commercial. A reality check hits him when Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is forced to stop bankrolling his children through school due to an expensive and experimental cancer treatment. From here Aidan has to learn hard lessons about responsibility and sacrifice for the benefit of his children.
As might be expected the film deals with some very heavy handed issues but never ventures too far into melancholy territory, there are moments intended to be moving sure but more time is spent taking things lightly and showing the more comical side to life and the challenges it presents. This is particularly exemplified through Aidan’s attempts to home school his children who ultimately know more about what he’s trying to teach them than he does. His interactions with the kids are at the heart of the narrative so it’s good that these are done well; other than some unrealistic dialogue that seems to have the characters analysing every moment his relationship with his children feels natural enough and for the most part they act like children with an unpredictable nature and a certain curiosity about everything. It’s clear that they respect their father through how candidly they speak to him and their willingness to dress him down when he’s done something that he doesn’t like. Braff does a good job of playing the character, managing to tow the line between comedy and drama nicely. He’s a likeable presence and is. for the most part, a nice guy who is just a bit down on his luck. I was rooting for him to get his life together and figure things out.
Aidan’s relationship with his father is another cornerstone of the narrative and how Aidan deals with the imminent loss is very important. Gabe is the standard disapproving father figure who chastises Aidan for his life choices and constantly insults his abilities as a father and a provider which only causes him to try harder to win approval in the short time they have left together. It’s somewhat predictable how this relationship will end up but it’s done pretty well, Patinkin has superb comic timing and delivers his lines with pinpoint precision inspiring a laugh with almost every one of them.
Noah (Josh Gadd) is Aidan’s brother who is is a genius level intellect seemingly wasting his life in a trailer by the beach living off inheritance which is another thing for Gabe to disapprove of in his sons. In the beginning Noah has no interest in building a meaningful relationship with his brother or his father but this clearly changes as the story progresses. Gadd does a good job of playing the character and bounces off Braff really well in their scenes together. His character arc feels somewhat rushed due to lack of screen time to properly explore it but what he does have is good.
Surprisingly Aidan’s relationship with his wife Sarah takes something of a back seat. She becomes part of the story periodically and there’s a subplot involving harassment at her workplace but there’s far less emphasis on their marital relationship than there probably should have been. There’s no real indication of how she relates to their children or what advice she really imparts to them. Comparatively Braff and Hudson share very few scenes together and there’s something a little off about their chemistry that makes the scenes they do have seem somewhat unnatural.
I found the film to be a bit oddly paced with some scenes that run overlong. As mentioned above more emphasis could have been placed on Aidan’s relationship with his wife and brother as well as how they play into his life choices as the plot continues. Some of the dialogue was a bit heavy handed with philosophical overtones that don’t come across as cleverly as the script seems to think they will. Fans of Braff’s other work will appreciate appearances from his friends Jim Parsons, Michael Weston, and Donald Faison who sometimes feel like fan service that awkwardly extends the run time.
A fairly effective late coming of age story that explores a turning point in Aidan Bloom’s life when he is faced with losing his father. Aidan’s relationship with his children and father are really nicely done and form a powerful focus for the narrative. Awkward philosophical dialogue, scenes that serve mostly as fan service for Braff’s other work and a lack of focus on some important relationships bring the film down in places but for the most part it is an enjoyable and thought provoking comedy with some genuinely moving scenes.