There’s a certain perverse logic to Zach Braff’s latest film being funded by Kickstarter: His fans essentially enabled him to remake his 2004 feature directorial debut, Garden State. Both movies are quirk boutiques that star Braff as a struggling actor who’s dealing with father issues and working out life’s troubles through a series of adventures in which Jim Parsons makes comedic cameos. All this and a nifty alt-rock soundtrack that kicks in every five minutes, too!
Wish I Was Here is the dewy-eyed, 10-years-later version of Garden. Braff once again directs, and this time he plays Aidan, a man-boy who’s a devoted husband to an overly supportive wife (Kate Hudson) and a dad to two cute moppets (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon). As Aidan grapples with losing his widowed cancer-stricken father (Mandy Patinkin), his brother (Josh Gad) — a guy who lives in a trailer and dresses up in Comic-Con costumes — keeps a safe distance from their take-no-guff dad, who’s spent his life being critical of both sons.
Braff, who co-wrote the film with his own brother, is clearly attached to the semiautobiographical material here and still has a knack for sweet two-person scenes (Hudson and Patinkin have quite a lovely one). But the relentless cultural signifiers (YouTube kitty videos, swear jars, Segways, characters who use the nonword aggro) trap the film in an amber that already feels dated. And Braff’s wholehearted embrace of weepie clichés — deathbed confessionals pop up as often as the indie tunes — clashes with the movie’s more side-eyed and profane observations. It’s a conundrum that fails to kick-start him out of his sophomore slump. C