Film & TV

Review – Wish I Was Here

Life is an occasion. Rise to it. After a decade long hiatus following the sleeper success of his directorial debut Garden State (2004) Zach Braff finally returns, with a drama/comedy about a dysfunctional family coming together in the face of terminal cancer. Certainly this is well-trodden ground cinematically, and perfectly demonstrated by the above tagline, Wish I Was Here offers all the profound wisdom of a phuckyoquotes’ Instagram post.

The film revolves around Aidan Bloom (Braff), a down on his luck actor who has been neglecting his responsibilities as a husband and father in the pursuit of his own dreams. The catalyst for change comes when his overbearing father reveals his cancer has returned, thus triggering a chain of events in which Aidan is forced to prove himself to be more responsible. Whether it’s through home-schooling his children, reconciling with his brother, or (in one particularly misjudged plot-strand) defending his wife’s honour from a harasser, Aidan becomes less egotistical and subsequently a happier man. The same is true of his family, who likewise learn to become more-rounded human beings through absorbing each member’s individual quirks.


More interesting than the narrative however is the story of how this film came into being: After the success of the Veronica Mars Kickstarter appeal, Braff launched his own campaign to crowd-fund Wish I Was Here. He had been sitting on the script (co-written with his brother Adam) for some time, unable to receive studio-backing whilst retaining complete creative control over the project. By financing the film through his fan base (achieving his desired $2 million goal in an impressive 48 hours) Braff was given the rare opportunity to perfectly realise his vision, free from the interference of Hollywood bigwigs.

Perhaps this is coming across as overly cynical. At worst this film is underdeveloped and forgettable; a shame, as early on the film shows some promise, boasting a strong cast and a particular indie charm that fans of Garden State will be familiar with. However, all too frequently Braff sets up potentially exciting scenarios, only to completely abandon them.


This is especially true of Aidan’s brother Noah (Josh Gad). There are early mentions of his fractured relationship with his father and general psychological upset. It is even implied that he may have some form of mild autism, thanks in part to some nicely implemented CGI cues. However these character beats are never truly explored. Instead, Noah ends up reduced to a clichéd overweight comedy caricature, spending most of the film doing stock geek activities, such as playing videogames in a caravan and pining for a Lego Death Star. Gad has proven in the past to be more than just a comedic actor, but sadly is let down here by the material.

Better served are Aidan and his children. Zoey King as daughter Grace is the film’s breakout star. Putting in a brilliant performance as a young teenager torn between her faith and wanting to let loose, her relationship with her father is by far the most complete narrative arc here. King and Braff click naturally and their growth as characters is heart-warming. Still, even Grace has a love interest that is more or less ignored forgotten from the midway point. Son Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) has a less meaningful role, but puts in a genuinely amusing performance as a young boy with a love of drills, cars and adventure.


It would be easy to dismiss this as little more than a vanity project for Braff. In fact, ever since Wish I Was Here achieved its Kickstarter aims, a lot of people have jumped to social media and online forums to do just that. It is a little disappointing that one of the first feature films funded through this interesting new platform is so mediocre. Still, even with pacing problems and a lack of originality, Wish I Was Here has charm to boot, bolstered by the performances of its young stars, along with some interesting visual flourishes.It’s also a lot more grounded than Garden State, which will come as something of a relief to critics of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype.

If you go in expecting a complex drama, filled with rich 3-dimensional characters that has something new to say about cancer, then sorry but you’re in the wrong place. However, fans of Braff’s previous work will no doubt get a kick from this, and ultimately that’s who the film was made for (and by).

Joseph Kulman

Star Rating 2.5

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