Neither is Zach Braff.
Both must be worth big bucks—Gibson from the movies, Braff from starring on 175 episodes of “Scrubs”—and could likely use some of their own capital to make their own movies but Gibson says he’s out of the game completely while Braff used the popular crowd sourcing site Kickstarter to raise money for his latest.
“Wish I Was Here” is part of the small—but growing—trend of celebrity driven films paid for by contributions from the general public. The almost-mid-life crisis story raised $2 million in just forty eight hours (ultimately procuring $3.1 million of a reported $5.5 million budget), attracted an all-star cast—Kate Hudson, “Frozen’s” Josh Gad, Mandy Patinkin and “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parson—and some backlash from critics who felt that crowdsourcing should be left for artists who aren’t also starring in giant Disney movies.
Fact is, “Wish I Was Here’s” backstory is a bit more interesting than the story on the screen.
Braff plays Aidan, an underemployed actor whose life is unraveling. His kids are about to be kicked out of Hebrew school because his father (Patinkin), who has been paying the bills, has been diagnosed with cancer and can no longer afford the monthly payment. His wife Sarah (Hudson) is supportive of his acting dream but nearing the end of her tether. Brother Noah (Gadd) prefers cos play over actual emotions and his two kids (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) are maturing faster than he is.
“Wish I Was Here” plays like two movies. The first forty-five minutes is a cleverly written comedic look at Aidan as a manboy with far more responsibility than he can handle. It’s ripe with gentle character based laughs that emerge from the situations and don’t feel forced.
It’s only in the second half when Braff (who co-wrote the script with his brother Adam) allows sentiment to get in the way of the movie’s momentum. Despite Patinkin’s line, “Eventually when things get tragic enough they circle back to comedy,” the final forty-five minutes, which deal with the loss of Aidan’s father, takes a darker tone. That’s OK, life sometimes changes on a dime, but the cleverness of the set-up is replaced with mawkishness.
Sometimes it works. Hudson’s heartfelt “tell your sons you love them” speech to her-father-in-law is shot simply with lingering close-ups on the actor’s faces. The scene has an intimate in-the-moment feel and is very moving.
Less so is Gadd’s big moment, (VERY MILD SPOILER ALERT), a Comic Con sequence that is a bit too quirky to fit the tone of the film that surrounds it.
By the end credits the movie worked for me more often than not, but I wished that there were fewer clunky moments. For every scene that rings emotionally true—and there are quite a few of them—there is another that feels forced. The beauty of “Wish I Was Here” lies in the former, and certainly not in the passages that feel left over from another, lesser quirky indie comedy.