Wish I Was Here

So here’s the new one from writer-director-star Zach Braff. Are we ready to give him a fair shake? Prerelease points of contention include that grammar-nerd bait in the title, the fact that he had the gall to Kickstart it, and, perhaps most fundamentally, the post-Garden State backlash. A decade ago, it was twenty-something angst, and now Braff has moved on, without really moving on, to thirty-something angst. Parental mortality remains a key theme, here with Mandy Patinkin as a conservative Jewish father whose fatal cancer saps the budget for yeshiva school, forcing Braff’s protagonist, an underemployed L.A. actor, to home-school his own two precocious kids. He also has a frustrated bread-winner wife, played by Kate Hudson, and a layabout brother, played by Josh Gad. Most importantly, he has dreams, and fears, and piled-up frustrations. You can see them on his face in the montages, and hear them echo in the overloaded indie-pop soundtrack. Wish I Was Here has soul, sure, but it’s the soul of a habituated entertainment-industry professional. This is exactly as sincere and as funny as you’d expect from a contraption designed to prove it’s possible to walk and chew gum, and tug a heartstring and gaze into a navel, at the same time. Toss in moments of truth, get out bits of business. There is something generous in how Braff doesn’t hog all the weight-bearing work for himself. But then, in the end, there isn’t all that much real weight to bear. Maybe in another 10 years?