WISH I WAS HERE. Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon, Joey King, Alexander Chaplin, Jim Parsons, Allan Rich. Directed by Zach Braff. Rated M (Coarse language and sex scenes). 106 minutes.
One of the main reasons for seeing Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff. He not only co-directed and wrote, he also stars. And the important factor for the film ever being made was that Zach Braff and his co-producers advertised online, on Kickstarter, the site for ordinary people to donate for the production of a film. There is a huge list at the end of people thanked for their contributions.
The title sounds a little fey. And this is reinforced at the opening with a bizarre picture of Aidan, the central character, in a kind of science-fiction scene. And then he wakes up. But, during the film, he has some of these recurring images, especially concerning his brother and his father.
Aidan is an aspiring actor in Hollywood, landing mainly commercials and supporting roles. He is happily married to a very nice wife, Sarah, Kate Hudson being charming. He has two very energetic children, the older is a girl (Joey King), with the symbolic name of Grace which is important at moments during the film. The younger child is a lively son, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). The first family scene is at the breakfast table which, somewhat disconcertingly, has a fair amount of swearing – with the family having a swear jar on the fridge and dad having to contribute a great deal. Then it lightens up as Aidan goes to sit with a crowd waiting for an audition – where the role has been changed, without his knowing, to an African- American role (with all the aspirants in the waiting room noting how they had all played Othello).
Almost immediately, a very strong Jewish theme is introduced. It is interesting to note that Zach Braff’s father is Jewish and his very New England traditional mother converted to Judaism. Aidan drops his children at a Jewish school which they thoroughly enjoy, Grace being particularly religious, knowing the scriptural background, interested in God issues, a girl who prays. The trouble is that they might have to move out of the school because their grandfather, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin at his best) has recurring cancer and needs the money with which he paid their fees for his treatment.
A lot of the film is consists of moments which are anecdotes, the decision to mend the fence and clean the swimming pool after his father’s criticisms, several conversation sequences, a visit to Aidan’s brother, Noah (Josh Gadd) who lives in a trailer where the door is rarely opened, working on a blog, some fine moments where Aidan is home-schooling his children because they cannot afford to go to the Jewish school.
The film is strongly pro-family, Aidan’s wife conscious that he is not always present when he is actually there, tries to find ways to bring him back. Both parents are devoted to their children. There are many fine, sometimes amusing, sequences showing family life.
Another very strong theme is that of dying. Aidan, close to his father, while Noah cannot bring himself to see his father, arranges a room in the house so that his dying father can have his final days at home. Mandy Patinkin’s performance shows a lot of the reality of fearless dying, including a beautifully intense conversation with Sarah, her gratitude to him for helping her through her sister’s death, talking with Aidan about the past, Gabe saying that he was not afraid and Aidan finding this most reassuring. Aidan phones Noah to come for his father’s death, Noah resisting but Grace going on the phone and very movingly persuading him to come. Which means that the death scene is quietly powerful.
Mention has been made of Judaism. There are various visits to Temple, to the school, to the ceremony for Gabe’s funeral. Aidan, who feels that he is not particularly religious, still focuses on questions of God and prayer, coming to talk to the rabbi in the Temple, the rabbi giving sound advice by asking Aidan how he might imagine God, with Aidan replying, using the word infinity to indicate his feel for the wonder of the universe. The rabbi urges him to reflect on how that works in his life. Aidan is really resistant to the phrase, God works in mysterious ways. And yet, a lot of the resolution of the film indicates mysterious ways, what other people might call Providence.
There is a nice ending, involving another audition and meeting with a man who was at a previous audition, Paul (Jim Parsons) and Aidan gives him good advice about his supporting role in a Star Trek kind of film. This is so much appreciated by Paul that he offers Aidan at some possibilities in theatre education that he never dreamed of.
Just before the final credits there is a collage of the events of the film and the central characters are all together a theatre performance.
Wish I Was Here illustrates that the humanity in the earlier film that he directed, Garden State (2004) is now even more evident.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Released September 18th 2014.