“Wish I Was Here” Review: A Must See. Tissues Required.

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A little over a year ago I backed Zach Braff’s new movie, Wish I Was Here, on Kickstarter. A lot of people don’t like Zach Braff. I’m not quite sure why this is. I, however, will now shamelessly flaunt my love for this man and his projects. Wish I Was Here deserves it.

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Ever since I gave to the Wish I Was Here Kickstarter, I have been waiting, impatiently, to finally see the movie I helped make. I opened the backers only emails with relish, waiting for the day the backers thank you screening would be available. I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes photos and videos, but what I really wanted to see was the movie.

Finally, this past Saturday, I opened an email with a link to the screening. I snuggled up on the couch with a cup of tea, my dogs and the hope that my Internet connection wouldn’t get screwy. (It did, unfortunately, and I yelled at the intangible Internet for a while before it started working again.)

Internet problems aside, Wish I Was Here was everything I hoped it would be. Many things were similar to Garden State: the writing, direction, soundtrack, cinematography. I was expecting, and hoping for, this to be the case. I was so excited for this film because I loved Garden State so much. I wanted to see the same style in Wish I Was Here. What I really loved, though, is that, even with these similarities, Wish I Was Here is its own film. It’s not a Garden State remake or sequel. It’s a different story that deserves to be told.

Aidan (Braff’s character) is a struggling actor in his 30s. He’s also somewhat of a struggling husband, father, son and brother. When his dad, played by the brilliant Mandy Patinkin, finds out his cancer is back, Aidan’s struggles come to a head. Aidan’s dad can no longer pay for his kids to go to a private yeshiva school, so Aidan takes on the challenge of homeschooling them, only to realize he has no idea how to teach his kids anything meaningful. Meanwhile, his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), works full time to support their family.

As Aidan’s dad deteriorates, it takes a toll on the whole family. Aidan tries to repair the relationship between his brother, Noah (Josh Gad), and their dad. Sarah tries to do the same, in her own way. She can see how much Aidan and Josh’s dad love them, even if they can’t, and she tries to bring them back together. By the end of the film the family does reconnect, at least a little bit. Even though it’s a bit expected and obvious, it’s not any less heartfelt.

The whole movie is filled with heartfelt moments that will bring you to tears. Mandy Pantinkin’s performance honestly had me sobbing and wishing I’d put a box of tissues next to me before starting the movie. There are also moments that will make you laugh (especially if you’re Jewish). There are great one-liners scattered throughout the film, just the witty kinds of things you’d expect from Braff, and wonderful performances from Jim Parsons, Ashley Greene and Donald Faison. They only appear briefly in the film, but they own their roles and bring life to their scenes.

There are a few scenes where Aidan imagines himself as a sci-fi hero, and the film could have survived without them. They were a bit forced and not entirely necessary as a plot device, but they weren’t so intrusive as to ruin the film.

Braff’s decision to use Kickstarter to fund Wish I Was Here created a lot of controversy and brought a lot of haters out of the woodwork. I’m glad he did it, though. I don’t think the movie would have turned out as well had it been a studio film. Braff’s voice is so present in his movies, which is what makes them great, and his voice would have been drowned out under studio funding.

I don’t care what the naysayers yell about in all caps in the various corners of the Internet. I loved Wish I Was Here, and I’m so proud to have been a part of it. I haven’t reached my 30s yet, but I know what it’s like to reach a point in my life where I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and where my family struggles aren’t making anything easier.

Wish I Was Here is a movie for the lost dreamers, just like Garden State was. It’s a movie for the indie crowds and the wanderers. There are a lot of people who don’t like this movie or how it was made or who made it. Ignore those people for a minute, though. Give this film a chance. Remember to bring tissues.

4/5