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Movie Review: “Wish I Was Here”

Movie Review: “Wish I Was Here”
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Opening one week before Woody Allen’s new film “Magic in the Moonlight”, Zach Braff’s latest effort would be easy to categorize as an Allenesque comedy that ponders questions of love and death, faith and parenting. While it definitely has some genetic commonality with Woody’s cinematic musings, it succeeds on its own merits; a delicate balance of comedy and emotion brought wonderfully to life by a superb cast.

Braff, who hit the indie scene hard with his Sundance hit “Garden State” in 2004, has joined forces with his brother Adam J. Braff  to craft a script that pretty much picks up thematically ten years after that 20-something comedy. Zach plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling, 30-something actor in Los Angeles who also happens to be married and the father of two children. But he is still searching for his identity and dealing with father issues, pushed to the fore when his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) announces that he has terminal cancer.  Aidan, who has been coasting on the goodwill of his job-holding wife and the financial assistance of his dad, must now contemplate public school for his kids, and his own career choices. He also needs to reconcile an estranged brother Noah (Josh Gad) with Gabe and help out his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) who is undergoing sexual harassment at her workplace.

True, there are too many plot lines happening here and the two hour running time might have benefitted from some trims. Did we really need to see Noah in full dork costume at ComiCon for instance?  But overlooking some extraneous padding, Braff juggles it all remarkably well. I became quickly attached to the characters and was happy to meander through their lives for a little time.  The screenplay is honest and funny and perfectly captures the agony and ecstasy of parenthood as well as the difficulty of facing the death of a loved one.

Aidan’s wife is played by Kate Hudson who has never been better. Leaving behind all her cutesy rom-com tics, she nails a deeply moving scene with Patinkin, who brings his particular brand of gruff remoteness to the role of Gabe, a man who hasn’t been able to show love to his two sons. The actors playing Aidan’s children (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) are also quite remarkable in their honest, touching performances.

And let’s not forget the comedy. At once respectful of religion and gently mocking of it, Aidan’s existential quest includes some incisive one-liners at the expense of rabbis, yeshivas and of course, the highest of holy altars, Hollywood. Aidan, who is full of anger, slowly learns to appreciate his life and family while also coming to peace with his father. I defy anyone not to have to stifle sniffles at several well-written, nicely acted scenes. But you might laugh the next minute too.

Braff piles on the happy endings and sets many a montage to hip, indie music. I rolled my eyes quietly while allowing myself to indulge in the emotional manipulation. The message of the movie is not an original one; basically life is short and seize the day. But Braff manages to couch the platitudes in so much warm humor and deep, honest sentiment, that the clichés can be forgiven and even enjoyed for their inherent, universal truth.







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