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Friday, July 25, 2014 12:06 am

Braff’s Cloying Approach Makes “Wish” One to Avoid

A vanity project if there ever was one, Zach Braff’s Wish You Were Here is far too calculated to take seriously and suffers from a sense of earnestness that’s so overbearing that the film ends up pushing us away rather than drawing us in.  All of the blame rests on Braff’s shoulders as he not only stars in the film but directed and wrote it as well with his brother Adam.   This project first made headlines when Braff began a Kickstarter campaign to produce it and raised over $3 million to do so, proving once more that W.C. Fields’ comment about a sucker being born every minute is as true now as it was when he first made this observation.  While I have no facts to back this up, I wouldn’t be surprised if this grassroots effort was necessary because the filmmaker couldn’t get financing any other way.

Aiden (Zach Braff) keeps running away from his problems in "Wish I Was Here," with Kate Hudson.
Courtesy Focus Features

 A poster boy for Peter Pan Syndrome, Aidan Bloom (Braff) is a man-child stuck at a crossroads.  35 years old and getting nowhere as an actor, his much-too-understanding wife Sarah (Kate Hudson, better than she has been in years) supports him and his two children Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon).  However, Aidan is forced to come to terms with grown-up concerns when he’s told by his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) that he is dying and will no longer be able to pay the tuition for the kid’s private schooling.  Realizing that desperate times call for desperate measures, Aiden decides he will homeschool his children, while continuing to go to auditions and tend to his father when he can.

Braff is far too self-conscious an actor to give a solid, well-rounded performance.  As a result, Aidan is someone we simply can’t connect with, what with being so distracted by the performer’s “Hey, look at me” turn.  As his brother Noah, Josh Gad gets sucked into this maelstrom of mugging, exaggerating his character’s quirky qualities past the point of parody, creating a caricature that’s far more irritating than poignant.  Inexplicably, two actors who usually do all they can to steal the spotlight, Hudson and Patinkin, give solid performances that end up having us sympathize with Sarah and Gabe for having to deal with these albatrosses that have been tied around their necks.  They both underplay to good effect, seasoned enough to know that a quiet line reading and a well-placed pause can be far more effective than any theatrical grandstanding.

Aiden (Zach Braff), his daughter Grace (Joey King) and son Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) are on a mission in "Wish I Was Here."
Courtesy Focus Features

As with most movies, its biggest fault lies in its foundation, as the Braffs’ script is predictable from the first.  Where there is a long-standing feud between father and son there’s sure to be a deathbed reconciliation; when Noah’s out-of-his-league neighbor (Ashley Greene) approaches him in a passive aggressive manner, you can bet they’ll end up between the sheets in the end and when Sarah is harassed by a co-worker, you just know that in the end he’ll get his comeuppance from Aiden.  These situations and their denouements arise in the most improbable manner and one’s left wishing that things played out in real life as perfectly as they do in the Braffs’ perfect world.

There are numerous reasons why Wish I Was Here left a bad taste in my mouth, not the least being the way in which each of the Blooms’ dire conflicts were resolved in a too-good-to-be-true manner.  Braff’s cloying approach creates a tone of neediness that’s so uncomfortable that if the film were an acquaintance you’d delete it from your phone’s contact list and block it on Facebook.  I don’t go to the movies to be accosted, I go to be entertained and prompted to think, two things Wish fails to do on both counts.

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