Sunday, July 20, 2014

"Wish I Was Here": Zack Braff as a struggling actor and stay-at-home dad, in Jewish life in LA; it starts out funny but sags a bit

As for Zack Braff’s new dramedy, “Wish I Was Here”, the first thing to say is that it was funded by Kickstarter, at least in part.  A long list of donors appears in the credits. Apparently the screenplay he wrote with his brother Adam didn’t get enough investor money.  Kickstarter funding does sound precarious.  (Actor Timo Descamps pimps Kicsktarter in this YouTube video. I don’t know how this bodes for me yet.)  The film has major distribution from Focus (that’s Universal).
And let’s get to the title.  I think use of the subjunctive mood would make the title sound better (that is, “Wish I Were Here”).  In fact, there is a mystery film from 2012 “Wish You Were Here”, which sounds familiar, and which I just added to my Netflix queue because I don’t recall seeing it.
Back around 2005, a filmmaker’s magazine presented Zack Braff as a ‘quadruple threat” because he does so many things.  That particular magazine had some racy pictures of a couple of other men unbuttoning Braff.  In fact, in this new film, Braff, now 38, starts to look more grizzled (though still lean) than need be.
This two-hour film looks big, and has some extraneous special effects.  It starts with aerial robots chasing Braff and others (his kids) through the eucalyptus woods around LA. There are a few other scenes like this, which are not well connected to the story.  They are just rem-sleep dreams of Aidan (Braff), somewhat based on the fantasies of his Asperger brother, Noah (Josh Gad), who really does put robot-stuff on, as do Aidan’s kids.  
The story setup is simple.  Aidan is struggling to build his career as an actor, and lets his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) play provider for the family.  OK, he’s a stay-at-home dad.  He’s desperate enough to show up at casting calls where the request specifically went for African-Americans.  His brother, previously an app developer, lives alone in a hut on the Venice Beach (a lot of interesting people do), and has become “just a blogger”.  So did I.  Their dad Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) has been paying for the kids’ tuition in a private Jewish school, and has to stop when he is diagnosed widespread cancer.  So Aidan takes to homeschooling his precocious kids, which does not generate very much material. 
The movie starts the countdown to the end of Gabe’s life, and the attempt to get the distant brother Noah to get back into the family.  It also shows Jewish life in LA, and presents a comical rabbi who will not give Aidan any slack when it comes to morality.  (I love the word “No!” when shouted.)  There’s an interesting subplot where Sarah has to deal with sexual harassment at work from a cubicle-mate.  I actually heard about a couple of incidents like this in my working career.  Aidan gets called upon to demonstrate is potential for manly assertiveness.
The site from Focus is here. Okay, “Life is an occasion, rise to it.”

Although funny in many spots, I didn’t find the movie as engaging as “Garden State”.  Some of the “feel good” lines toward the end sounded a bit artificial.  I saw the film at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA, Saturday afternoon, before a fair crowd.  (It will probably play better  in wealthier suburbs in Maryland, including around Baltimore, than in VA.)  The movie is sharply photographed on location around LA (some of it in Venice), in perfect late fall beach weather without smog, and has a full digital stereo sound track; but I didn’t see “Dolby Digital” (or Atmos) get any mention in the credits.  That was odd.

 So my take on the film: a "B". 


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