I had a good friend in college who strangers frequently wanted to punch in the face. It was weird because he could just walk into a party or a bar and someone would become instantly offended by his presence.
He never did anything or said anything that drew any particular attention to himself, but dodging fistfights was always a constant peril with him. I always suspected that some kind of pheromones had to be at play.
Much like my friend, “Wish I Was Here” is a movie you want to punch in the face even though you can’t quite put your finger on why you want to.
It is a well-made and finely-acted movie from writer/director/actor Zach Braff whose previous triple-threat effort “Garden State” still garners a lot of goodwill from many corners, mine included.
This whole thing got off on the wrong foot when Braff took to the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to help fund this movie and got absolutely killed by the entire Internet. Since Kickstarter exists so the masses can bankroll the modest creative dreams of typically unknown artists, a guy with a hit movie and TV show under his belt begging for cash on the site came off as a bit gauche.
In spite of the backlash, Braff got the money to make the movie. Even still, you can feel a weird defensiveness that permeates the whole movie as the camera lingers on crane shots and scenic locations as if Braff is saying, “See? Wasn’t this totally worth the money? See?”
Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor whose abrasive charm is suffered from a smile by his way-too-hot wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) and precocious kids Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King).
Crisis strikes the family when Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin at his Patinkin-ist) stops paying for the kids’ tuition to a private Jewish school in order to pay for his experimental cancer treatment.
Since Sarah is busy toiling away at her soul-crushing office job, Aidan decides he will home-school his kids, with predictably lousy results. As Aidan learns valuable life lessons about becoming a better human being he also takes on the task of reconciling the strained relationship between his father and his socially reclusive brother Noah (Josh Gad).
Every character is given some sort of existential difficulty to overcome as emotional manipulation oozes from every corner of the screen.
While it is a little less focused than “Garden State,” both movies do share a very similar tone. But while deep earnestness and wry naval-gazing work while studying a character in his 20s, in “Wish I Was Here” it seems stunted and borderline pathetic to dedicate all this energy to see someone in his late 30s tromping over the same ground. I’m not saying that this level of arrested development doesn’t happen in the real world, I’m just saying that at this point it’s harder to care.
Superficially there is nothing wrong with this movie. It looks great and Braff is a wholly competent filmmaker. I’ve got no beef with any of the performances; there are even some standout turns from Gad (showing some depth and range) and King (this is a kid to keep your eye on).
This movie has its problems to be sure, but I freely admit that I disliked it a lot more than it probably deserved. If “Wish I Was Here” walked into a party I would want to punch it in the face. I guess the explanation here — and for my friend back in the day — is that sometimes the gut can make as compelling an argument as the head. You just go with it.
“Wish I Was Here” is rated R for language and some sexual content.