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"Wish I Was Here": Zack Braff's Indie Ennui a Decade Later 

Wednesday, Jul 16 2014

Here's the new one from writer-director-star Zach Braff. Are we ready to give him a fair shake? Prerelease points of contention include that grammar-nerd bait in the title, the fact that he had the gall to Kickstart it, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the post-Garden State backlash. A decade ago, it was twenty-something angst, and now Braff has moved on, without really moving on, to thirty-something angst. Parental mortality remains a key theme, here with Mandy Patinkin as a conservative Jewish father whose fatal cancer saps the budget for yeshiva school, forcing Braff's protagonist, an underemployed L.A. actor, to home-school his own two precocious kids. He also has a frustrated bread-winner wife, played by Kate Hudson, and a layabout brother, played by Josh Gad. Most importantly, he has dreams, and fears, and piled-up frustrations. You can see them on his face in the montages, and hear them echo in the overloaded indie-pop soundtrack. Wish I Was Here has soul, sure, but it's the soul of a habituated entertainment-industry professional. This is exactly as sincere and as funny as you'd expect from a contraption designed to prove it's possible to walk and chew gum, and tug a heartstring and gaze into a navel, at the same time. Toss in moments of truth, get out bits of business. There is something generous in how Braff doesn't hog all the weight-bearing work for himself. But then, in the end, there isn't all that much real weight to bear. Maybe in another 10 years?

About The Author

Jonathan Kiefer

SF Weekly movie critic Jonathan Kiefer is on Twitter: @kieferama and of course @sfweeklyfilm.


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