Zach Braff Runs Over the Same Old Muddled Ground in ‘Wish I Was Here’

His scruffy charm and klutzy style grow annoying to the point of exasperation onscreen.

Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here.
Zach Braff in Wish I Was Here.

As good as he is singing, dancing and looking befuddled onstage in the Woody Allen musical Bullets Over Broadway, Zach Braff’s scruffy charm and klutzy style grow annoying to the point of exasperation onscreen. He once directed a cutesy-poo low-budget trifle called Garden State that was twee before the word was invented, and, in my opinion, overrated by everyone except the audience that stayed away in droves. Now he’s back with a second feature, co-written with his brother Adam and financed by a controversial Kickstarter fund-raising campaign, called Wish I Was Here that made me wish I was anywhere else.

(1/4 stars)

Written by: Zach Braff and Adam J. Braff
Directed by: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon and Kate Hudson
Running time: 120 min.

Pretentious (it thinks it’s a comedy but descends into depression faster than you can fill a Prozac prescription) and self-indulgent (whole scenes are thrown in for no reason except to stretch a five-minute sitcom pitch into nearly two hours of phony, contrived tedium), it’s a mess begging for coherence.

Mr. Braff plays Aidan Bloom, an obnoxious, unemployed Hollywood actor with a long history of failure who puts his own ego, laced with sarcasm, ahead of everyone else, turning his family so dysfunctional they make the wackos on Modern Family look like Leave it to Beaver. He’s such a flop that he can’t raise two kids, take care of his father’s dog and find the time to go to auditions, so his long-suffering wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is the family breadwinner, supporting them all with her boring job compiling spread sheets for the Los Angeles water department.

Aidan is an agnostic Jew who doesn’t believe in anything, calling the rabbis in his kids’ Hebrew school “orthodox zombies” and leaving it up to his dad to finance their education. But now Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is dying of cancer and can no longer afford the tuition, so everyone goes a bit mad. Aidan’s irresponsible, mentally challenged brother Noah (Josh Gad) wears a space helmet and lives in a trailer. Daughter Grace rebels against public school by shaving her head and wearing a purple Dynel wig. Mr. Braff seems to think anything can hold attention if it’s quirky enough, but everything is so precious and schematic that the charm disappears faster than a melting Popsicle.

Mr. Braff is not without some charm of his own, but the character he plays is. What Mr. Braff forgets is that Aidan is a bona fide A-hole—a grown man with responsibilities who contributes nothing to his family or society and wastes all of his passion dreaming about stupid roles in sci-fi fantasies about space ships. He won’t get a day job. He refuses to send the kids to public school, but his attempts at home schooling are pathetic. Mr. Braff thinks Aidan is somehow a lovable jerk to be embraced for his iconoclasm, but the guy is really shallow, spineless and insincere.

For 106 minutes, he never changes. And everyone else gets loopier, too, in scenes that are superfluous and inconsequential. Why is the rabbi sub-mental? Why does the family take a joy ride test-driving a luxury car with the top down? Why does the little boy carry around a power drill everywhere he goes, including yeshiva? Does anyone think a running gag about a dog that pees on everyone is funny? Kate Hudson is the only one who tries to apply any realism to the proceedings, but in her office, even she is forced to endure the sexual harassment of a coworker with a talking penis. I’m not lying. Who could make up this stuff?

The writing is mechanical and too conscientiously clever by half. Example: At an open audition, as a line of actors wait to read for a part, one brags, “In college, I played Othello,” and the others, in unison, retort, “We all did.” This is funny? In a home-school history lesson, Dad says something about Al Qaeda. “The black Weatherman?” “No, that’s Al Roker.” These are the jokes. Then the movie works itself into a lather trying to make you cry when Grandpa dies and it’s up to the daughter in the purple wig to convince her idiot slacker uncle in the space helmet to visit him in the hospital. I didn’t cry because it was too late for tears, and as far as humor, I found Wish I Was Here about as amusing as a catheter. Zach Braff Runs Over the Same Old Muddled Ground in ‘Wish I Was Here’