Wish I Was Here (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Wish I Was Here (2014)

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Aidan can't get any work as an actor, his father is dying of cancer, and no longer has the funds to send his kids to private school.  These events trigger his need to rediscover what he has to share with the world.  Zach Braff directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Wish I Was Here, his directorial follow-up to 2004's Garden State.

The real brat packWish I Was Here is terrible.  There's no need to belabor the point for a film that's already as tedious and cloying as Zach Braff's latest indie rock party for one.  Braff's fictional creations tend to place themselves at the center of the universe and expect, in some way, for all existence to pivot around their actions.  Now he just proclaims a sort of guru of desert epiphanies and hopes that he and his fictional families antics throw the cosmic scales of comedy and drama into storytelling harmony.

What makes Wish I Was Here so frustrating is that Braff is a good director.  He's worked with some of the great minds of television comedies and tremendous cinematic talent, and it's worth remembering that he started his film career in Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mystery.   So I'm not surprised that Braff's films have, so far, been an open question about why an upper-middle class man can be so sad.  What I'm surprised at is none of Allen's self-depreciation rubbed off on Braff and this is what gives Wish I Was Here such a nauseating taste.

The failure of Wish I Was Here is in Braff's screenplay which he co-wrote with his brother Adam Braff.  Allen's comedy, and really almost all comedy, works because it does not assume a position of superiority over the people that are being made fun of.  Braff's film comes from a position that if you are born an upper-middle class man and give the most cliched advice possible that everything will work out ok in the end.  That's barely a starting point for basic character growth, let alone a feature-length comedy, and as a result Wish I Was Here carries this undeniably smug sense of self-satisfaction as Braff brings the camera close for each revelation with the growing expectation of "Isn't this deep?" to appear on the bottom of the screen.

The casual child abuse isn't as rampant as the racism or sexism, but it doesn't matter as Aidan is still free from any kind of criticism.

No one stands up to Aidan on anything - even casual child abuse.

Some of the lines the Braffs wrote for this film: "You know what the problem with hiding in a fishbowl is?  Everyone can see you," Aidan, critiquing his brother while he stands around in a converted fishbowl helmet.  "Take things into your own hands, so to speak," Aidan's father, on catching Aidan masturbating.  "You ever watch these Youtubes?"  Aidan's rabbi, on the wonder of the internet.  In each one of these lines the Braffs' screenplay is not making insights, it's just describing what's happening on the scene in that very moment with a raised eyebrow.  The images aren't funny, and the dialogue is tiring as smug people pat themselves on the back for being able to effectively communicate the broadest details.

Yet if this was the worst Wish I Was Here had to offer then Braff's film would just be unmemorable.  Instead Braff decides to use this film as an opportunity to integrate different gender and race jokes into the story, and what results is a content and tonal disaster.  When Aidan isn't solving everyone's problems with trite expressions Braff will sometimes cut to the problems his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is having at her work.  When she brings up sexual harassment to her boss he tells her that so long as her coworker was not making racially suggestive comments she needs to "Lighten up."

This year sexism in mass culture has reached a critical conversation point and Wish I Was Here is cinematic exhibit A in the kinds of passive behavior that allows this horrible nonsense to go on.  Instead of addressing these problems Braff first goes to the softcore cliche' of sex on the washer.  Another subplot his brother decides that constructing an amazing costume for a convention will make the girl who hates him want to have sex with him - and then this happens.  This after he insults her directly by not knowing her fast food pop culture.  Every scene exists to show just how cool doing your own thing is and every woman will want to have sex with you if you just play the right game or know the right obscure cultural details.  All women are related to their status as potential conquests for men, even his daughter.  As storytelling, this is shallow.  As a social artifact, it's disgusting.

Braff has a couple of good shots at the beginning that take Aidan down a peg before reversing course and barreling toward sainthood.

Braff has a couple of good shots at the beginning that take Aidan down a peg before reversing course and barreling toward sainthood.

Never mind that neither of these men have jobs, or that Aidan is able to go on his trip because of money he steals from a swear jar his wife set up, or that Aidan completely ignores his father who is dying of cancer so that he can lie to a car dealer about his daughter having cancer so that he can take a test drive, or that he has dreams where he's chased by a spooky Arab.   There is no point where reality comes crashing in and this is where we must note that Wish I Was Here is entirely Braff's creation.  His dream film is to create a universe where direct sexism, vague racism, and bland statements are totally cool coming from a leech with no original ideas and no idea of how to live for anyone else but himself.  This is his ideal hero he got fans to give $3.1 million dollars for.

Plenty of comedy and drama have these issues but are not half as noteworthy because they carry out a basic goal of being funny or moving.  Wish I Was Here is so infuriating precisely because what ends up on the screen is neither and what I'm left with is the troubling subtext of Aidan and his brother's actions.  There are rare scenes that showcase Braff's talent for visual comedy, especially when it comes to surprise figures entering the frame.  I chuckled at the site of Braff sitting nervously among the black auditioners and two have an exchange - "This shit is horrible, in college I did Othello."  "We all did." - that doubles as both a decent observation about the limited opportunities for black performers and a note of self-depreciation about Aidan being a man whose lack of talent has him way out of his depth.

Instead Braff uses this scene as the opportunity to pull himself up and say, "Wait a minute, I am better than all this," then go on his wacky soft-rock adventure while looking vaguely mournful at times.  A wiser man would realize just how pathetic this character is.   Instead there's Braff, looking into the horizon, wondering just what soul his thin moralizing will save next.

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Tail - Wish I Was HereWish I Was Here (2014)

Directed by Zach Braff.
Screenplay written by Zach Braff and Adam Braff.
Starring Zach Braff.

Posted by Andrew

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