Wish I Was Here
Score: 4 out of 10
Ten years after dazzling critics and audiences with Garden State, Zach Braff is back with Wish I Was Here, a new indie drama that he co-wrote, produced, directed, and stars in. This is where I usually describe the plot of the film, but it doesn’t really have one. It’s more a series of things that happen to a man in his mid-thirties as he faces a time in his life when he’s forced to throw out his childish dreams in order to meet the grown-up reality of supporting his family. There’s also a subplot involving his father dying of cancer, forcing everyone to question their faith, god, and the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Throw in a few scenes involving Braff’s nerdy cosplayer brother, played by Frozen snowman Josh Gad, and you’ve got a basic formula that allows the filmmakers to exploit the entire spectrum of human emotion.
Nothing in this movie works. It tries to jump back and forth between serious drama and slapstick comedy, and ends up failing at both. The comedy scenes are downright painful to watch, like something out of a stupid American sitcom, while all the drama is forced and sappy. Striking the right balance between comedy and drama is a very difficult thing to do, but it’s impossible when your humor is so low brow. It’s very hard to laugh at a fart joke while someone is on their deathbed, or to get yucks out of sexual harassment. You simply cannot force awkward tonal shifts on an audience and expect them to follow along.
The other big problem with this movie is that everything feels phony. Obviously all movies are fake, but the writing team of Braff and his brother Adam sacrificed what genuine sentiment they might have had in order to inject some kind of clunky symbolism into everything. There isn’t a single scene that doesn’t feel written, with groaners like “you know what’s wrong with hiding in a fish bowl? Everyone can see you.” There’s also “the happiest you’ve ever seen me is a smile you never saw?” Human beings do not talk like this, not even hipsters.
All the problems with Wish I Was Here can be summed up in the film’s Swear Jar (see right). Braff is seen carrying it around with him throughout the film, but look at the label. See how it’s written? It’s clearly meant to have been scribbled on there by a small child, but it looks like something a production designer or prop master would have done in an attempt to make it look like it was written by a child. Every time you see it in the movie, and you see it a lot, you’re reminded that nothing is real, that you’re looking at actors pretending to be real people. This is a perfect microcosm for everything wrong with Wish I Was Here. It’s trying to be a meaningful portrait of real life, but it’s just plain wrong.
-Review written by Blake Siefken, follow me on Twitter!
Exceptional review. Nice job Blake.