“Wish I Was Here”
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for
Running time: 120 minutes
Distributor: Focus Features
As an actor, Zach Braff is most closely associated with the character J.D. from Scrubs, the Emmy-winning sitcom which enjoyed a nine-year run on network television from 2001 to 2010. As a director, he is best known for “Garden State,” the quirky, semi-autobiographical feature film where he played a struggling actor who returns to his hometown in Jersey for his mother’s funeral.
“Wish I Was Here” is more akin to the latter, being another delightful, dysfunctional family dramedy which Zach directed and stars in. He also co-wrote it with his brother, Adam, and the offbeat adventure milks much of its mirth from Jewish culture in a manner often evocative of Joel and Ethan Coen’s “A Serious Man” (2009).
The point of departure is suburban L.A. which is where we find 35-year-old Aidan Bloom (Braff) in the midst of a midlife crisis. The fledgling actor is on anti-depressants and in deep denial about his dwindling career prospects, despite the fact that he last worked ages ago in a dandruff commercial.
What makes the situation problematical is that he futilely fritters away his time auditioning, oblivious to his breadwinner wife’s (Kate Hudson) resentment. She hates being stuck like a rat on a treadmill in a stultifying government job where she is being sexually harassed on a daily basis by the pervy creep (Michael Weston) who shares her cubicle.
But she can not quit her job because their kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), won’t have food on the table or a roof over their heads. As it is, they’ve already sacrificed some luxuries, like the built-in pool that sits empty in the backyard.
Something’s gotta give when grandpa Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) suddenly announces that his cancer has returned, so he can no longer afford to subsidize his grandchildren’s expensive private education. Not wanting to subject them to the substandard, local public schools, Aidan grudgingly agrees to abandon his pipe dream of Hollywood stardom in order to homeschool them.
However, this affords him an unexpected opportunity to not only share some much-needed quality time with them, but to orchestrate an overdue reconciliation between his long-estranged brother (Josh Gad) and their rapidly-declining dad, as well. Soon, adolescent Grace develops the confidence to blossom from a repressed wallflower into a show off sporting a metallic purple wig, and six-year-old Tucker finds fulfillment toasting marshmallows in the desert with his more attentive father.
By film’s end, expect to be moved to tears by this poignant picture’s bittersweet resolution and sobering, universal message about the importance of family. And don’t be surprised if the weeping persists way past the closing credits.