Zach Braff makes the most Zach Braff film ever.
Back in 2004 Scrubs star Zach Braff wrote and directed sleeper hit Garden State to much critical acclaim. Garden State captured not only the timeless concepts of alienation and loneliness but also the zeitgeist at the time with the unassuming but brilliant indie soundtrack and also the rallying against drugs, legal or otherwise, as a way to solve the heartache and ennui that a generation of young men and women found themselves engulfed in. It was both beautiful and an instant cult classic…
…So when Braff marketed Wish I Was Here as a ‘sequel’ (albeit not directly) to Garden State he immediately raised expectations to fever pitch. I can see why Braff chose to go down this road – a huge chunk of the films budget was raised by fans on Kickstarter – but this method was was always going to invite comparison to his previous masterpiece.
There is absolutely no denying that Wish I Was Here is a heartfelt film, perhaps even more so than Garden State, but it feels like Braff has less to say here. Garden State may be low key but there is a fury behind the writing, a desire to change, in Wish I Was Here the writing seems a little tired – jaded even. From an artistic point of view however it is clear that Garden State resonated with so many people because they identified with Braff and how he felt, Wish I Was Here is also a reflection of where Braff is in his own life. More grown up, a little older but still wearing his heart on his sleeve.
As with Garden State though this is not just a vehicle for Braff. Mandy Patinkin (enjoying a pleasing renaissance of late after the success of Homeland) is superb as Braff’s father (father son relationships are again a strong motif as with in Garden State), and it is nice to see Kate Hudson putting in a solid turn as Braff’s wife.
I have spent this entire review talking about a different film so in conclusion Wish I Was Here is not an original story, the soundtrack (So crucial in… oh yeah focus on this film sorry) is forgettable and the direction is nothing to write home about BUT Zach Braff makes it work because this is a snapshot of where he is in his life and it is impossible not to get swept along in such a heart felt piece of work.
I would love to see Braff write/direct a third feature film but I hope he doesn’t leave it ten years next time!