Wish I Was Here

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Mandy Patinkin (left) shows disappointment in his son (Zach Braff). His life, and backyard, are a complete mess.

The elephant in the room for this movie is the Kickstarter controversy. I wrote a story on it (http://fox5sandiego.com/2014/02/10/the-kickstarter-controvery-who-pays-to-make-a-movie/). The grand total for Zach Braff’s sophomore movie was 46,520 backers paid for it. Almost 400 of them got listed in the production notes for the movie, and many of them were disappointed. Not by the final product, but by things they weren’t allowed to do – like go to a screening of the film at festivals. I think they should be angrier that they funded a movie for a rich guy that had enough money to do it himself. Braff and his brother wrote the script and could’ve surely paid the millions themselves and taken the risk. Instead, the “fans” foot the bill, and he sold the movie and made millions more on top of that. Not sure if that was the intent of Kickstarter, as oppose to being a great vehicle for filmmakers just starting out that don’t have the funds.

When Braff started taking a lot of heat for going this route, he talked about wanting creative control. Yet I don’t see how that would’ve been a problem if he was the writer/director/star, and after how great his first movie (Garden State) was, he could surely demand that.

In this, Braff plays a struggling actor who’s wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports them by working a boring job in a cubicle for the water department. They have two kids. One is going into 7th grade (Joey King). She’s very intelligent, and seems to be embracing the religious studies her grandfather (Mandy Patinkin) is paying for. Her younger brother (Pierce Gagnon) is the typical boy – he’d rather play video games and fall asleep during choir practice. They won’t be going to the Orthodox Jewish school for much longer, because their grandfather is dying. He needs to use his extra income to pay for some experimental surgeries, since his cancer has spread past the point of regular doctors being able to do anything.

The movie starts with one we’ve see in other filmss – the adult that’s cursing and told by the kids he has to contribute to the “swear jar.” Yet it was smartly done (with a great punchline).

When Braff takes his kids to school and feels the need to smoke a joint in the car (who doesn’t get stuck in traffic and want to do something?!)…we realize he’s a pretty selfish dude. That might make it hard for some to appreciate the journey he’s on. Especially when his father, in a gruff way, keeps telling him to give up his dreams of being an actor. At one point he tells him, “You haven’t had a job since that dandruff commercial; and ironically, you still have dandruff!”

His wife is a little more forgiving. She remembers the love he has for the craft and wants him to succeed at it. Yet when she’s being sexually harassed at work and he’s not even doing a decent amount of housework, it gets to her.

One of the few things I disliked about the Coen brothers movie A Simple Man, is his interaction with the rabbis. In this, those scenes worked a lot better. I just wish Braff could’ve done more things right. The film gets very self-indulgent and often times, the scenarios play out like they’re better suited for a TV sitcom.

Josh Gad, who has been doing some impressive work lately (he was the voice of the snow man in Frozen), plays the brother that is the big disappointment to the family. He’s living in a motor home by the beach and wants to sit around blogging all day instead of helping the family. We slowly see he has a few reasons for being bitter, and that he’s not the worst uncle in the world (even if he would prefer the kids to be duct taped to the chair when he babysits). The San Diego audiences will love the fact that he’s designing a great costume to wear to Comic-Con, all to impress a woman that lives nearby (Ashley Greene).

The home-schooling scenes were horribly done, as were a few others in the movie. It was frustrating, because of the potential this film had. For example, there’s a scene where the couple is talking about their relationship while sitting at the beach. Hudson sweetly asks, “When did this relationship become solely about supporting your dream?”

There’s another scene where the granddaughter is visiting her dying grandpa in the hospital. She is wearing a hot pink wig, after naively shaving her head a few days earlier. She gives Patinkin some welders goggles. He barks, “What the hell are these for?” She says softly, “So when you go into the light, it won’t be so bright.”

As she slips them on his bearded, grumpy face, she lies down next to him. The camera stays there as they’re embraced. You’ll bawl your eyes out. It had me wonder why we couldn’t get just another scene with Noah and his dad, to understand a little more about why their relationship is so contentious.

Then we get scenes like the family going to visit an Aston-Martin dealership to take a test drive, all because the kid mentions it being his favorite car. Nothing about it worked or was remotely funny. The same can be said for Braff being caught pleasuring himself when his dad walks in.

The early reviews from the critics haven’t been good and that’s hard to figure out. Perhaps some of it is the Kickstarter backlash. Maybe some are bothered by yet another man-child character, but I think there’s enough of a change in Braff that as he grows, we grow to like him. The way he starts questioning spirituality in a mature way, and he seems to become a decent father. It’s obviously easier for us to root for his character in Garden State because he’s in his 20s and confused by his place in the world. When you’re in your early 30s and raising a family, we’re less tolerant. We don’t want to see the wife being the one that has to bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan (side note: How does her data entry job even afford them living in that house in Los Angeles?).

Jim Parson shows up as another struggling actor, and he’s horribly miscast and unfunny. Fans of The Big Bang Theory will get a kick out of it, I suppose.

And just as this movie isn’t as good as Garden State, it’s the same as the soundtrack. The Garden State one ranks among the best soundtracks in movie history. This one uses Bob Dylan’s best song (Tangled up in Blue). It has a new tune from The Shins (So Now What), which isn’t as good as the song that “changed his life” in Garden State. It was nice to hear Cat Power. Yet as great as it was using Simon & Garfunkel’s America in the first movie – hearing Paul Simon’s Obvious Child not only didn’t work – but we just saw it in the movie Obvious Child last month!

Both the movie and the soundtrack, get 3 stars out of 5. Audiences shouldn’t worry about the bad reviews it’s getting. I think they’ll love the film.

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