Not all Kickstarter projects are created equal. The Veronica Mars movie may have received lots of praise for its daring to go a different route than the usual studio process, but Zach Braff suffered an entirely different fate. Launching a campaign to crowd-fund his long-awaited Garden State follow-up, Wish I Was Here, Braff was quickly lampooned by those who didn’t believe the platform was for bankable stars like him, and the negative publicity has pretty much defined the film’s narrative up until this point.
But now the film is out and available for those UK backers to watch, and that seems a lot more important than questioning whether it should have been made in the first place. However it happened, it’s rare in its purity – this is exactly the film its director wanted to make, with no compromises and no one to please other than the loyal fans that have handed over their cash to ensure its existence.
So how is it? Well, it’s definitely a Zach Braff movie and, if you liked Garden State and Scrubs, then chances are you’re going to like this quite a lot too. It’s an old-fashioned family movie that pushes the drama and sentiment as hard as the surrealist humour Braff has become known for, and it always comes across as the film he wanted to make through and through. There’s nothing here that feels forced or disingenuous, and that’s endearing in itself.
But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Sometimes it feels as though it would have benefited from another perspective that wasn’t so close to the film, reigning in the Braff-iness of the whole thing, and the self-indulgence of certain moments is hard to ignore. But, then again, what’s wrong with a little self-indulgence when a filmmaker has been given the license to do whatever he wants in order to please a fervently loyal fanbase? They’ve waited long enough, after all.
Braff stars as Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, husband to Sarah (Kate Hudson) and father to Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King, stealing the film). The movie pitches itself as a story about a man in his late 30s coming to terms with his various responsibilities, reconciling his dreams with his reality, but that’s actually just one part of it. It’s also about fathers and sons, with Mandy Patinkin entering as Aidan’s father, Gabe, dying of cancer and forcing a stream of strained familial moments.
It’s in that second part that the film proves to be a very moving exploration of things like faith, family and redemption, which is done with more depth and insight than anything else. Its focus on Aidan’s lack of faith in the face of his daughter’s unfaltering belief is really quite unique and something that makes the movie worthwhile on its own, and it’s to the movie’s credit that it never feels the need to tie a neat bow on the discussion. You don’t often see a film talking about religion without judgement or a particular agenda.
There are as many gut-punching, tear-jerking moments as there are laughs and, while the outline of the plot doesn’t promise anything particularly new, the resulting film surprises you more often than you might be expecting. Some stuff doesn’t work – for example, there’s a voiceover device that pops up every now and again to rip you away out of the story – but the parts that do really do.
Garden State was very much about that existential crisis most people go through during their 20s, and Braff’s second movie transplants that idea into the next decade. Wish I Was Here is a messy film that only just about justifies its existence after such a backlash, but the honesty and warmth with which it’s infused makes you hope for a third Before Midnight-style movie about your 40s another ten years down the line.
Wish I Was Here is out now in the UK.
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