As Zach Braff's directorial follow-up to the aggressively feel-good Garden State, Wish I Was Here has been bogged down by twee expectations since it was announced. And indeed, the film is every bit as contrived as you'd imagine, and entirely heartfelt in its exploration of family togetherness.
Partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $3 million and launched yet another debate over the ethics and implications of crowdfunding, Wish I Was Here stars Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, an unemployed actor. His wife, played by Kate Hudson, pays every bill but one: the tuition for their two kids' private Jewish school. That's bankrolled by Grandpa (Mandy Patinkin)—or was, until his cancer came back and he decided to spend the remainder of his savings on an experimental treatment that may or may not work. There's no shortage of winsome affectations: To name just a few, we have a Segway-riding rabbi, a subplot involving a Comic-Con cosplay contest, and a swear jar that Aidan takes almost everywhere he goes.
Braff claims to have turned to Kickstarter to avoid financier interference, but nothing in Wish I Was Here feels out of the norm for an Indiewood production. The flights of fancy and would-be wrenching conversations between son and dying father feel like low-rent Big Fish, while everything else (including the soundtrack) feels like Garden State updated for 30-somethings. One exception is Hudson, who's almost better than her role requires her to be. The backbone of both the family and the movie, she brings an emotional urgency to conversations with the ailing patriarch and to mundane work scenes alike.
The wisdom espoused by Wish I Was Here—namely, that grown-ups are just winging it and are not the all-knowing beings their children think them to be—is dime-store variety, but Braff's expression of such simple ideas, especially in his opening narration, is never less than sincere. Gimmicky and self-indulgent, sure, but also utterly without fashionable cynicism. While not a great filmmaker, the former Scrubs star is nothing if not a humanist. That may be faint praise, but it's something.
Critic's Grade: C
SEE IT: Wish I Was Here is rated R. It opens Friday at Fox Tower.