Zach Braff wrote and directed the out-of-nowhere Garden State back in 2004. It made fat cash at the box office, sold a lot of soundtracks, and arguably became its decade's best approximation of The Graduate.
After succeeding even more wildly with a number of seasons on Scrubs, Braff announced he was going to make his second film as a director. So, he did what any filthy rich filmmaker would: He launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Wish I Was Here. The budget was modest, in the $2 - $3 million range, which was all the more strange: Braff made more than that in half a season of Scrubs, so why not pay for it himself?
Perhaps it was just a social media experiment; back in the salad days of MySpace (remember MySpace?), Braff was one of the early celebrity adopters, blogging regularly and communicating with fans on a daily basis, so he could have seen Kickstarter as a natural extension of that interaction. Or, perhaps Braff couldn't get enough people in Hollywood to chip in and didn't want to sink his own money in a movie with limited potential. Having seen Wish I Was Here, that is not a far-fetched notion.
It is, in no uncertain terms, Garden State 10 years on. Braff plays an actor at a professional crossroads (again) who has issues with his father (again) and who misses terribly his late mother (again). There's no crime in that; it could be interesting to view similar struggles through the eyes of the same writer and director armed with more life experience. But this isn't interesting.
Aidan (Braff) can't find work as an actor in Los Angeles, leaning on his wife (Kate Hudson) to be the primary provider. Their kids' Hebrew school education is funded by Aidan's father (Mandy Patinkin), who reveals early on that his cancer has returned and he can't afford to pay for the school anymore. Aidan's slacker brother (Josh Gad) lives in a trailer and plays video games, and after years of not seeing eye-to-eye, he has all but closed the book on his relationship with his dying father.
This all sounds very sad, which is why Braff has populated almost every other scene with ridiculous comedic ideas to, presumably, bring balance to the universe. So, the slacker brother decides to win a costume contest at Comic-Con to impress the hot next door neighbor, his wife is sexually harassed at work (but the funny kind, though, where guys just talk about their penises as their penises), and Aidan auditions for lousy parts in lousy TV shows. Life in your mid-30s: It's a banquet of somber and silly.
Patinkin, as you might expect, is great, although he's still such a vital actor it's a shame to see him walk the terminus plank here and do nothing else. You might want to keep an eye on Joey King, who plays Aidan's pre-teen daughter. She's far and away the best thing about this film.
It should not surprise you that Wish I Was Here is exquisitely soundtracked. Braff won a Grammy for assembling the outstanding Garden State music, and while most of these songs provide more atmosphere than punctuation, it's still a great-sounding movie. It's also a well-intended movie, but meaning good and being good aren't the same thing. Wish I Was Here presents concepts that have been driven into the ground by better films and leaves you wishing it all amounted to something more than, "Hey, you know what, life goes on."
Of course, "life goes on" may be the only solace for you if you were one of the 40,000 suckers who paid Zach Braff to make this thing.