The Sommer Series: A review of “Wish I Was Here”

Neliana Ferraro

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Written by Sommer Rusinski

Zach Braff will always be JD to me.

Regardless, Wish I Was Here is a sweet little movie that was controversially funded by a Kickstarter campaign; many people thought it unfair that a Hollywood actor took money from the public to make an indie film. Personally, I don’t see the harm. It’s not like he took the money to make warheads. He crafted a beautiful little movie that explores so many truths and resonates with all audiences.

Aidan Bloom (Braff, Scrubs) is floating in space. Figuratively, and sometimes literally- he escapes into vivid daydreams of being a space hero and saving his home from certain destruction just in the nick of time. He’s a middle-aged father of two whose acting career has long burned out, save for a pathetic dandruff commercial. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson, Almost Famous) is a constant supporter of Aidan’s dreams, and the breadwinner at a dead end office job where she endures mild sexual harassment. Aidan’s brother Noah (Josh Gad, Thanks for Sharing) is a boy-genius turned nerd recluse who lives in a trailer on the beach and refuses to be a part of the family. Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) plays Gabe, Aidan’s ailing, disapproving father who can no longer afford to send his grandchildren to their conservative Orthodox yeshiva. This leaves Aidan trying to homeschool his kids, follow his dreams, and take care of his dying father- all while maintaining his role as gentle patriarch. It’s the perfect setup for any premature mid-life crisis.

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Photo courtesy of Focus Features

Mandy Patinkin is irresistible as always. He is so hardened and gruff, but he’s got the kindest crinkly eyes that make it impossible to dislike him. And this is my favorite thing Kate Hudson has ever done. She doesn’t have too much screen time and her character was written to be low-impact, but she plays Sarah big. Most of my favorite moments in the film are centered on her. Another standout was 15-year-old Joey King (Ramona and Beezus) who plays the young daughter Grace. Grace is rebelling in an unusual way; she has completely resigned to being a Jewish Orthodox woman, shaved head and all, in an otherwise secular family. King is fearful and beautiful and sensitive and exceptional as Grace.

Wish I Was Here finds its stride about halfway through, tidying up the messes of the first half in a satisfying and resolute way. This is an adult coming-of-age film, and a solid follow-up to Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State. Braff has solidified his place as a shameless indie king after these two films. Set in a warm, hazy Los Angeles neighborhood and scored by a dreamy soundtrack, Wish I Was Here is tonally perfect. The script is a little meandering and tries to hit upon too many suburban hardships, and it almost seems like Braff was pandering to the middle class (probably trying to convince them they gave their money to the right man.) But to his credit, the storylines are fully committed to sincerity and approached in earnestness.

There is a bedside scene towards the end between Aidan and Gabe that sums up the quiet beauty of the film. It is poignant and subtle and I totally cried. Like embarrassing, choking, lump-in-throat crying. At 3 a.m. by myself. The whole film is worth it for that one scene. Trust me.