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Monday, January 20, 2014
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Sundance Review: Wish I Was Here

By Terence Johnson
Managing Editor

There is such a thing as putting too much of one’s self into something. Wish I Was Here, the new Zach Braff film that was partially funded by Kickstarter, is sort of the kind of film you’d expect from him. Unfortunately, the movie does nothing truly innovative and a moving second half can’t save a film that’s all over the place.

Wish I Was Here is a film about the Bloom family. Aiden (Zach Braff) is a 30 something father of two who is chasing after his dream of being an actor. It’s not working out well for him however (he’s months out of his last gig, a dandruff commercial) and this is putting a strain on his family. His wife (Kate Hudson) is working a dead-end job with a creepy coworker, his two children are defiant, and his father has just been told his cancer is back. The movie then wrestles with the concepts of how to make the best out of situations, religion, and how important it is to pursue your dreams.

One of the few positive take aways from this film is the acting. Braff and Hudson make a compelling on-screen couple and both have big moments that really help elevate the material. Mandy Patinkin, so stoic, manages to rise above the stereotype of a strict father and really show the cracks in this man. Joey King, however was the MVP for me, playing the religious daughter who acts wise beyond her years, yet still maintains her childlike whimsy.

What drags this film down is it’s script. The first half of this film is all over the place tonally and many of the jokes didn’t land. Wish I Was Here, feels like it’s a film in slow motion, many of the beats don’t land and the quirkiness level is off the charts to the film’s detriment. I felt many times that Braff was doing his shtick in a film that didn’t need it (3/4ths of the Jewish jokes just feel forced) and the entire subplot involving Josh Gad and Ashley Greene’s characters could have been axed completely. However, when the Braff brothers aren’t trying to out Braff themselves, the movie turns into a really interesting chamber piece about following dreams, your place in the world and how to deal with tough times. The final act is particularly moving, understated in parts and loud when it needs to be. When the movie slows down and lets the character really do some introspection, it works. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie had earned the emotions it was drawing out near the end.

Director: Zach Braff
Screenwriters: Zach Braff, Adam Braff
Producers: Stacey Sher, Michael Shamberg, Zach Braff, Adam Braff
Executive Producers: Christopher Woodrow, Molly Conners, Maria Cestone, Sarah E. Johnson, Hoyt David Morgan
Co, Producers: Coco Francini, Ameet Shukla, Amanda Bowers, Adriana Randall
Cinematographer: Lawrence Sheer
Editor: Myron Kerstein
Principal Cast: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Ashley Greene, Joey King

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