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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wish I Was Here Review: Touching Kickstarter Fails to Break New Ground

Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here is nothing but typical thirty-something Kickstarter dramedy.

In the world of Hollywood, it seems that certain genres fall all too easily into something equal to a time loop, their stories rehashed for a new group of unsuspecting moviegoers until they realize only later that their newest love is really a distributive of something much better. Such is the case with Zach Braff's dramedy Wish I Was Here, a film with potential but condemned to all the tropes of its much better predecessors.

Struggling actor Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is tired: unable to land a role after starring as the 'Before' guy on a dandruff commercial, he's unsure of himself and the direction his career is headed. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is in a similar rut, imputing data at her boring job with the water service, while Aidan's father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) has been paying the tuition to keep his granchildren (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) enrolled at a local Jewish school. That all changes when he learns that his cancer has returned, sparking an emotional reaction from Aidan and feigned indifference from his estranged brother (Josh Gad) who's been living in a trailer since their mother died. Faced with his father's impending death and the home schooling of his children, Aidan must either forge bold new ground in his life or be rolled over by events he seemingly cannot control.

Braff assembles a great cast, including Joey King who looks more and more these days like Rachel Weisz. King, Gad, and Braff enjoy good chemistry, keeping the ship afloat even as the story begins to wander early in the second act. Hudson and Patinkin have their moments as well, eventually connecting as Gabe's life begins to ebb. Parsons is only around for a few scenes, but his presence is both perfect for Wish and shows that he may never escape Sheldon Cooper. His appearance represents a lost opportunity for cameo credit. And while this deep cast delivers good performances, Wish doesn't break new comedic ground, settling instead into the drama portion right on time after a funny (but typically Judd Apatow/Cameron Crowe) 30 minutes.

The problem with Wish lies not in its wholesale carving up of previous tear-jerkers This is 40 and Say Anything, but its slow-developing plot sticks around for longer than it should. Blame for this shouldn't just lie upon the shoulders of fellow Garden State alum Myron I. Kerstein but on Braff the Director. He's technically proficient, and this certainly doesn't feel like a $6 million production, its supple aspects courtesy of Cinematographer Lawrence Sher; but any effort to trim the story doesn't feel like it's enough, meandering through a funny first act that suddenly becomes too serious after a rather raucous opening. Audiences will notice all the tropes at play: the long goodbye from dad, the regret of not connecting with parents before their untimely ends, and the promise that parents will do better by their children. Yet with these errors, it's clear Braff has a following: his Kickstarter posse made Wish possible, and if there's anything positive to be taken from this experience, it's that an army of loyal followers can now bring almost any idea to a theater near you (see Veronica Mars).

With all the explosions and time travel Science Fiction for us to enjoy this summer, it will be hard for Wish I Was Here to find an audience beyond its 46,520 Kickstarter fans, its quirky nature often feeling too long in the tooth. A victim of its own goodwill, the film is one serious edit away from being the dramedy breakout hit of the summer. Instead, its core fans will have to wonder what might have been, as this reeks like Judd Apatow dropped a deuce at the door and lit it on fire for Braff to polish up.

Wish I Was Here is rated R for language and some sexual content and has a runtime of 120 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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