Zach Braff came under fire last year when he successfully launched a $2 million Kickstarter to bring his latest project to life. This might not have been controversial except that Zach Braff is, ostensibly, a famous person with money, and this film was “a follow-up to ‘Garden State’” at best and a vanity project at worst.
For those of you who contributed to the campaign, I can tell you your money went toward covering the expense of a pretty (but pointless) scene featuring an Astin Martin and some sci-fi spaceman special effects, but also a banging soundtrack.
After all, someone has to pay Bon Iver the big bucks to write an original song.
When I saw “Garden State” as a college kid, I fell in love. I wanted to be Natalie Portman and I wanted to marry Zach Braff. I loved the Shins and that one Coldplay song with fierce affection. We all did, right?
…Have you seen “Garden State” in the last few years? It does not hold up. Manic pixie dream girl issues aside, the ending doesn’t make any sense. No way is he going to stay in New Jersey after spending one week with Natalie Portman (Apologies for the spoiler from 2004).
The imagery in “Garden State” is pretty on-the-nose (shouting into the abyss, anyone?) and “Wish You Were Here” focuses more than once on a broke LA family’s ugly, drained in-ground pool in the back — and a teenage daughter who can’t swim.
This movie has a lot happening with it. I appreciate that Braff (and his brother, who co-wrote the film) didn’t want it to just be about his character, so he developed story lines for everyone: His wife is being sexually harassed at work; his daughter is a confused teen who shaves her head as a misguided attempt to follow her Jewish faith; his brother is a genius on the autism spectrum who hates their dad; and said dad is disappointed in his kids but also dying.
This might not be so bad, except that throughout there are also these big themes of following your dreams, and is there a God, what happens when we die, and why should we let family come first. It’s just too much. A lot of unnecessary scenes could have been axed in favor of more compelling ones that kept us focused on one of these. Pick one. Why do we need to see that the young son is obsessed with Astin Martins, or that the Mandy Patinkin character saved all of his contact lenses over the course of his life? (Also, gross.) Why can’t those kids just go to public school and solve a lot of the family’s problems? Do we need a confrontation between Braff and his wife’s douchey co-worker?
The tone also felt off most of the time. Was Braff’s character light-hearted and foul-mouthed, or deadly serious and depressed? The best episodes of “Scrubs” could be extremely heartfelt while also containing butt jokes. I realize this is a hard balance to strike, but a lot of the humor here felt out of place or inappropriate.
Again, I loved the soundtrack — No one is questioning Braff’s ability to pick the perfect song to set the tone of a scene. I also appreciated how they dealt with Kate Hudson’s character reporting sexual harassment at her office, and the lovely scene with just her and Patinkin in a hospital room made me tear up. I even enjoyed the Donald Faison cameo in that Astin Martin scene.
I just think this script needed some more time spent on it, and fewer plot lines.
“Wish I Was Here” opened in wide release Friday, July 25.