It is apparent about a quarter of the way through Zach Braff’s follow-up to Garden State, Wish I Was Here, that the writer/director/star is hoping to evoke the audience’s emotions more through cry-inducing scenes rather than light-hearted or funny ones. As his father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) lays on the bed, dying, it is heart-wrenching, yes, as both sons Aiden and Noah come to his side, but the ending prior to the send-off message doesn’t have the punch that Braff is clearly aiming for, which seems to be the case throughout the movie.
Wish I Was Here follows Aiden, a wannabe actor trying to make it in the business, and his family. His kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), are quirky and speak more like adults at times and his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), practically runs the family as Aiden tries to pursue his dream.
Aiden’s journey is thrown into gear when his father comes to him and tells him that his cancer is returning and he would not be there much longer, Aiden must try and reconcile with his estranged brother Noah (Josh Gad) and bring everyone together.
Braff crafts a set of solid characters, with Hudson’s Sarah standing out the most. Garden State was known for creating the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” for Natalie Portman’s character and Sarah seems like a massive change of pace from that character. She is the provider of the household and a woman who doesn’t take anything from anyone (she handles her own problem at work between her and co-worker).
She also holds the best scene of the film, when she goes to speak with Aiden’s father alone, that shows Hudson’s acting skill to the max and reminded me that she still has it.
Outside of her, the cast is nothing special. Gad gives a solid performance, but his character arc seems rushed and to fill the emotional void at the end. Ashley Greene shows up as a pointlessly written, sex-driven love interest for Gad’s Noah. Patinkin does well with what he is given and with that scene with Hudson in particular, gives the second best performance of the movie.
Finally, Braff plays his character essentially like he has played most of his parts, especially in Garden State. While he seems a lot more progressed in life in this role, he still contains that train off the tracks personality and tries to evoke that from the others.
Wish I Was Here has a good heart and its ambition is admirable, but Braff banks way too much on pulling in emotions with tear-jerking scenes and should consider using humor to diffuse and make the situation more real. Also, lose the music montages, what is this? The 80s?