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Why Zach Braff’s ‘Garden State’ Follow-up ‘Wish I Was Here’ is Cause for Concern

Why Zach Braff's 'Garden State' Follow-up 'Wish I Was Here' is Cause for Concern

"I want to make more movies like ‘Garden State.’ I mean, Woody Allen was my hero. He’s someone who, in his heyday, in the era of his films that I love the most, was making movies that were just taking the social temperature of his group of people in New York City, and I’d like to make more movies like that for people my age."

Zach Braff, 2004

A decade has passed since actor-writer-director Zach Braff made the above declaration in an Indiewire interview at the Sundance Film Festival. Despite his idealism, Braff wouldn’t succeed at directing another feature for a full 10 years, but his goal was finally completed this past January at the Sundance Film Festival, with the world premiere of "Wish I Was Here," the widely documented Kickstarter-backed comedy in which he also stars.

Now almost 40, Braff remains a Sundance darling: "Wish I Was Here," opening this week, is an excessively sentimental and goofy by-the-books dramedy about midlife anxieties and suburban discontent. The movie landed a sizable deal with Focus Features shortly after its first screening — not unlike the swift process by which "Garden State" was picked up in a joint arrangement with Miramax and Fox Searchlight 10 years ago.

"Garden State" instigated immediate cult-like worship followed by the inevitable backlash to its capricious humor in the ensuing years. But while that movie was an easy target for cynical takedowns, "Wish I Was Here" is begging for it in a different way: Though it generated several months’ worth of headlines about Braff’s crowdfunding approach, the resulting movie is far more forgettable than its production history.

READ MORE: After All that Hubbub, What’s the Final Verdict on Zach Braff Kickstarter Controversy?

Littered with delicate pop songs, goofy one-liners and broad caricatures, "Wish I Was Here" stars Braff as struggling actor and deadbeat dad Aidan Bloom, a one-note Woody Allen knock-off adrift in a sea of sitcom clichés: While his good-natured wife (Kate Hudson) urges him to find a real job and struggles with her own soulless office job, Aiden copes with the news that smarmy father (Mandy Patinkin) has cancer and can no longer afford to pay his grandkids’ Jewish school tuition.

Frustrated with the school’s unsympathetic faculty, Aiden decides to home school his kids with chaotic results, and makes vain attempts at getting his estranged, out-of-work brother (Josh Gad) to make amends with their ailing dad. Despite the flashes of amusing vulgarities and an overarching sadness to the scenario, "Wish I Was Here" constantly strains from its grating focus on a rudimentary soul-searching plot and sophomoric mainstream humor. Despite his stated aspirations in 2004, Braff hasn’t made another generational statement, but rather a regurgitation of tropes that got old a long time ago.

Which isn’t to say it lacks a few good punchlines. The nebbishy Aiden’s constant banter with his two young kids (at one point, one of them confuses Al Roker with Al Qaida) shows the extent to which he has failed as a responsible parent in amusingly over the top terms, as does his decision to spark a joint in the parking lot after dropping them off for school. But Aiden’s soul-searching reeks of obviousness, particularly when Braff illustrates them with constant Walter Mitty-like fantasies that find Aiden imagining himself as a science fiction hero.

The looming threat of Aidan’s father’s illness leads to a few admittedly touching bedside exchanges, and the attempts by Aiden’s older daughter (Joey King) to take charge of her family’s problems has an inspiring quality that stands out. But "Wish I Was Here" mainly goes through the motions with a copy-and-paste story about coming to terms with responsibility that suggests Braff would have done well to crowdsource the idea along with his budget.

To be fair, Braff never deserved the extreme backlash to his well-publicized Kickstarter campaign, which certainly allowed the filmmaker to prove he has a substantial fan base to validate his filmmaking career. Yet it’s hard not to consider that the publicity allotted to this particular success could have better served for far stronger movies.

Snatched up in a lucrative deal by Focus Features in its first big acquisition after the departure of company founder and noted aesthete James Schamus, "I Wish I Was Here" points to the company’s evident shift toward catering to the lowest common denominator of mainstream sensibilities. No less than when "Garden State" premiered, the most commercially obvious product threatens to soak up all the attention. So goes the marketplace.

In that regard, you can’t do better than Zach Braff, whose latest work could have been produced by Judd Apatow. Braff may have expressed a creative urge to tell stories for his generational peers, but his unadventurous sensibilities actually engender a commercial frenzy. "Wish I Was Here" surely satisfies its fan base, but it ought to consider some better options.

Sadly, no Kickstarter campaign has the power to alter an industry only committed to the safest bets.

Grade: C

A version of this review ran during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. "Wish I Was Here" opens in select theaters this Friday ahead of a national expansion on July 25.

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Sorry folks, but I just saw this film. It’s good and it WORKS. Let’s see all you critics do a better job.


This is brilliant review. It captures the biases jewish actors have from growing up with some amount of "Jewishness" and the effects of this aspect of their psyche has in with their acting.


For future reference:
Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel.

Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron.

Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.


First let me say I backed the kick starter project and have seen the movie. This review is really off the mark..will it be nominated for best picture or best script..maybe not. But it is a solid movie, it will make you laugh and there are powerful dramatic arcs that will make you cry. It is July folks, thought provoking, innovative film content is hard to find..great acting performances by Mandy Pantankin and Kate Hudson in this one..both of whom could be nominated for Best Supporting roles in my opinion…my advice to the reviewer.."lighten up Francis"…'s July..go see the will be a nice change of pace from cgi monkeys and super hero raccoons


Zach is one ugly looking actor, lets face it….and kate is the one millionth kid whose mom or dad was an actor or director….AND this is another movie about…actors, or Hollywood!


Dear Zach, you are not Woody Allen. You are a charming comic actor, and you know a one-liner when you see one, but there's more than a whiff of complacency about your filmmaking.

PS Woody Allen was not "making movies that were just taking the social temperature of his group of people in New York City".


The intended target audience has so few options with mainstream cinema production that this movie is truly a breath of fresh air. Our society is so consumed with hero or god worship that plotlines are too often unrealistic and we forfeit our own imagination for that of others. It's wonderful for a film to take on a concept as mundane as they did. It's what really happens in life. The best part is that insight comes so easily to things that don't apply to your life, yet we're somehow blinded to obvious truths when they're personal. Your review reeks of pretension. Kudos, as always Mr. Braff.


Tour comments are right on the mark. This film was a disappointment.


And here I was eagerly waiting for this movie. Nonetheless, I will be watching it.
I was very impressed by the trailer.

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