★★ | Wish I Was Here

Aiden is evidently a very lousy actor. He’s so bad that even though he lives in LA he hasn’t managed to score even a bit-part role for some years now.

He does insist though that he must ‘follow his dream’ and selfishly refuses to give up even though his nearest and dearest must pick up the slack for him. His wife Sarah has a monotonous data-processing job at the Water Company just to put food on their table, and his father pays the fees for the private Jewish school that both of his children, Grace and Tucker, attend. This however now has to change as his father announces that as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and wants to spend all his money on alternative therapies, he can no longer fund the kids’ schooling.

Aiden’s response to this new development is to try and get accepted as a charity case at the school hoping they may forgo the fees, and when this fails, decides he will home school the children instead. It’s something that he clearly has no skills for, but then again, it’s obvious that he’s not actually qualified to do much at all beyond attending auditions.

Pre-teen Grace who is a very earnest honours student wants to continue learning how to become a devout Jew, whereas her younger sibling Tucker would rather play video games than participate in his father’s attempts to teach him anything. Meanwhile, Sarah has to work in a cubicle with a creepy man who insists on talking about what he calls his penis voice and when she complains to her boss, she is just rebuked and told that she should be grateful she even has a job. Aiden’s father’s treatments fail and his health is now declining rapidly and he is desperate to make amends with Aiden’s slacker brother who seems to hate the entire world, except for the cute woman next door. But somehow Aiden still manages to make most of this all about him.

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There are more than a few similarities between Aiden on screen and his creator/writer/director Zach Braff (although Mr Braff is a good actor) as both are well-meaning and full of good intentions but in this movie are ultimately doomed to fall well short of their goals. This comic drama about the angst of a middle-class Jewish family ‘struggling’ in LA is at best mildly amusing, but for the most part is very flat and annoying. The fact that Mr Braff totally funded his sophomore movie from Kickstarter donors may be the clue as to why this rather undisciplined story, free of any Studio input, seems to have allowed him to indulge him in taking swings at many of the things in LA that seem to really peeve him with such an unfunny script.

There are touches of the disarmingly charming Braff who has delighted audiences in his TV sitcom Scrubs for years, but not even a glimpse of the wit or humour of Woody Allen that he claims to want to aspire too. The high points are the poignant performance by Mandy Patinkin as the father, and a resilient Kate Hudson doing her best with the little she had been given as Sarah.

After being so enamoured with his debut movie Garden State, a break-out Indie smash ten years ago, I was so looking forward to Braff’s follow-up, and it is just a disappointment then to find it is so less accomplished and enjoyable than one would have expected.