Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Josh Gad, Mandy Patinkin, Ashley Greene
When Zach Braff announced his intention to crowd fund his first directorial feature film since 2004's twee-fest Garden State, it prompted much debate. Should established stars exploit their fanbase in such a way, with those contributing ineligible for any share of the profits, or is this a new way for filmmakers to see their projects made without the interference that may come from traditional backers? If an established star like Braff has a film worth making, he'll find the money without resorting to exploiting the goodwill of his fans, most of whom are likely fans of the character he portrayed on his hit TV show Scrubs rather than Braff himself. The simple fact is, Wish I Was Here isn't a film worth making.
There's a scene in the movie where we see Braff's character masturbating over a laptop. We don't see what's onscreen, but given the nature of the film, it wouldn't be a surprise to find Braff pleasuring himself over a picture of himself. In Wish I Was Here, Braff plays Aidan, a freeloading, seemingly failed actor, husband to long-suffering Sarah (Hudson) and father to a pair of impossibly smartass kids. Not having worked in quite a while, Aidan allows Sarah to be the sole breadwinner in the house, while his kids attend a Jewish school financed by his father Gabe (Patinkin), despite Aidan's agnosticism. When Gabe drops the bombshell that he's been struck down by the Big C, and can no longer afford the tuition fee, Aidan is forced to examine his life. Except he doesn't. Not one bit.
We keep waiting for the penny to drop with Aidan, for him to realise that maybe he should get off his ass and stop living off the goodwill of his wife, but it never happens. A snob who refuses to send his kids to public school, Aidan's reaction is to home school the pair, but rather than providing an education, he sets them to work performing repair jobs around the home, which is an awfully large and nice home for a family that claims to be financially struggling.
Aidan's freeloading doesn't stop with his immediate family. At one point he breaks into a neighbour's house to use their swimming pool. Another scene sees him blag a ride in an Aston Martin by pretending his shaven headed daughter is a leukemia patient. This might be amusing if it wasn't so hypocritical, given the heavy handed subplot of Gabe's impending death from cancer. The shaven head gimmick also provides Braff an excuse to clad actress Joey King in a bright pink wig, simply for the sake of an annoyingly cliched slo-mo strutting scene and a quirky poster image.
"You're doing such a great job," characters keep telling Aidan. But he's not! He's a terrible husband and an even worse father, but the movie seems blind to this. How Braff can believe anyone could find this pretentious waster remotely likeable is baffling. If Braff remade Manhattan it would probably play more like American Psycho and Mariel Hemingway, not Woody Allen, would be the one who makes the climactic plea for reconciliation. Indeed, Wish I Was Here gives the impression that Braff is a fan of Allen, but one who completely misunderstands his work, or a fan of Ayn Rand who understands her work all too well.
As with Garden State, Braff fills the movie with "feel now!" moments accompanied by middle of the road indie folk and even recited poetry, borrowing emotion that, like everything else about this project, will never be reciprocated.
Sometimes you get what you deserve, and if you are one of the almost 50,000 who handed over money to Braff, you've gotten the film you probably deserve.
By Eric Hillis