Zach Braff has a quirkier sensibility than most directors his age. Not quite as nostalgic as Wes Anderson, not as dark as Darren Aronofsky, but quirky in the Generation X sort of way, still struggling to figure out their life in the wake of their more successful baby boomer parents. Because of that, many find his stories to be whining and intolerable, particularly his first film Garden State about the difficulty of post-college life, which he completed when he was only 29 years old. Now, ten years later, he has created this spiritual sequel about life in your 30s. Has his perspective grown and made his film more relatable or is he still lost in his own little world?
Let’s take a look at Wish I Was Here.
Now, to be fair, when Garden State premiered, I was 13 and thought my twenties were going to be these beautiful times where I was going to blossom into the social butterfly I was destined to be. 10 years later, I’m just glad to have a paying gig that allows me to indulge in watching movies and chilling around my apartment on the weekend. So when I first saw the film and how bleakly it portrayed that age, I fell in with the adults that were calling it senseless whining and over dramatization.
Now that I am that age, I agree with the film more or less (minus the manic pixie dream girl that, no boys, you are not entitled to, stop asking) and how lonely a time it is. My main concern is now that since this is a film about being 30 with children and a crumbling career that I will miss the point of the film, simply because I am not old enough to “understand.” That being said, it is a movie that I think is more sympathetic in that it deals with topics of growing up and death, two things people of most ages can relate to.
The story follows of Aidan, a failing actor in his thirties with a hard-working wife, distant and cynical brother, two children and a dying father. Throughout the course of the film, Aidan and his family have to deal with the continuous falling apart of their internal structures, whether it’s changing schools, dealing with work or finding out that your career path is in a tail spin before you should be having a midlife crisis.
I feel that while I can understand the career crisis and the figuring out of identities, I feel the way the film deals with grief is all too realistic or very detached. I might be spoiled by the mushy films that typically depict dying but honestly it just seems like the death becomes a side plot to the rest of the action. The plot itself feels almost inconsequential almost to the emotions expressed and the beautiful scenery (and trust me, it’s lovely).
Braff is an excellent actor, and as a director he has an eye for scene composition and meaningful imagery but as a writer, I feel as though his set up could use a little work and some of his dialogue fails to stick. It’s interesting to see him bring his Judaism into play though. Kate Hudson and Josh Gad are good but not great, as they feel more like archetypes more than fleshed out categories. Manny Patinkin is a riot and the children are actually pretty convincing in their roles. You might also recognize a couple of Braff’s friends roaming around to various effect.
The movie does serve a purpose, which is to question what is important in life and that a change of trajectory isn’t always a bad thing. Most movies tell you to stick to your dream, this one tells you that maybe your dream is stupid and you need a new one. It’s definitely a movie that isn’t afraid to be a little sentimental and a little cynical, a combination that makes the film oddly relatable. That’s why you should see it — its heart is genuine and well meaning, and very very endearing.
Ultimately, while the message and sentiment of the film are strong, the production itself feels a little disjointed, with people feeling more like pawns shifting into narrative place. I still recommend giving it a watch because it does get at something truly beautiful, just not what you’d expect.
– Great cinematography.
– Good acting.
– Good overall sentiment and message.
– Some dialogue and characters feel clunky.
– Treatment of mourning/death seems distant.