I'm not ashamed to admit my love for Zach Braff's 2004 "Garden State" - even if some people think I should be.
I’m not ashamed to admit my love for Zach Braff’s 2004 “Garden State” — even if some people think I should be.
Yes, it’s twee and, in retrospect, a perfect storm of hipster-bait, and yes, Natalie Portman’s character was a prototypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but dammit, it worked. I had it at the top of my year-end list in 2004. Sorry not sorry.
So it was with some excitement that I followed Braff’s Kickstarter efforts to fund his “loose follow-up.” A decade after “Garden State,” Braff’s second major film feels an awful lot like the first, minus much of the magic.
Like his Andrew Largeman in “Garden State,” Braff’s new lead Aidan Bloom is a struggling actor, but he’s not an aimless 20-something. He’s an aimless 30-something, albeit one with a wife (Kate Hudson) and two kids (Joey King, Pierce Gagnon).
While Aiden is struggling to find enough work to keep his kids in a private Hebrew school, his dad (Mandy Patinkin) announces that his dormant cancer has returned and he’s not expected to live. The announcement sets Aiden off on a voyage of self-discovery.
One could not accuse “Wish I Was Here” of not being heartfelt, but Braff sets off in too many directions and tries to push too many emotional buttons for the whole thing to work.
Aiden moves from wise-cracking sitcom dad (“Who drives a yellow Hummer? What is he going to war on the sun?”) to spewer of deep thoughts and life lessons. Over the course of an hour and 40 minutes, he repairs his relationships with his father, his wife, his kids, his misfit brother (played by Josh Gad) and comes to terms with his place in life. Whew!
There are, however, more than enough moments to remind me why I fell in love with Braff’s first film, moments of sweetness, moments of silliness. The young actors are great, and Hudson is at her best since “Almost Famous.” There’s just too much movie-of-the-week stuff going on.
Let’s hope Braff learns from the missteps here. And let’s hope it’s not another decade until his next movie.
Photo courtesy of Focus Features