"Scrubs" alum Zach Braff made his directorial feature debut a decade ago with "Garden State," and now, as writer, director and star, he has managed a second film about actors and their insecurities. This one, "Wish I Was Here," he co-wrote with his brother, Adam.
Its unofficial alternate title is "The Latest Kickstarter Controversy Movie." Wishing to retain final cut, casting control and to shoot his LA story in LA rather than a cheaper out-of-state locale, Braff and his producers took the project to Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding mechanism. From 46,520 people came funds adding up to more than $3 million of a proposed $5.5 million budget, the rest coming from gap-financing sources.
Then came the noise. How dare Braff, the big TV star, finance his indie this way! Why couldn't all the Kickstarter supporters get into the Sundance Film Festival premiere? And where's my T-shirt? I was told I'd be getting a "Wish I Was Here" T-shirt! And so on.
And none of this controversy would amount to anything if the film itself were better.
Watery at best, whiny at its worst, "Wish I Was Here" is about a struggling actor (Braff) living in the Valley and married to a patient, supportive, underwritten breadwinner played by Kate Hudson. Their two kids' private school tuition is being crowdfunded by a one-man crowd: the stern, ailing father (Mandy Patinkin, the best thing going here) of the actor. When the money dries up, the actor takes on a home-schooling project and attempts, for the first meaningful time in his preoccupied and frustrated life, to be a working part of his own family. Josh Gad plays the actor's wastrel brother, stubbornly refusing a reunion with their father.
Braff's film is sincere down to its toes, expressing in forthright ways, over and over, the importance of seizing the day and being true to yourself but also being of some practical and emotional use to your loved ones. The movie is everything but funny or interesting. The actors, particularly Patinkin and Gad, bring their own funny-and-interesting to the project, but the way Braff lards the pathos with squishy folk-rock undermines his own attempts at honest communication.
"Wish I Was Here" - 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for language and some sexual content)
Running time: 2:00
Opens: FridayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun