If it isn’t remembered for anything else, Wish I Was Here may go down as one of the most controversial crowdfunded films ever made for reasons that didn’t even involve the film’s ambitions or content. When Braff announced in 2013 his sophomore directorial effort would be funded by generous donations and contributions from fans and supporters of his work on the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter, backlash ensued, questioning Braff’s business asking for contributions when he, himself, had presumably made a great deal of money from his last film Garden State ad his recurring role on TV’s Scrubs. Despite considerable flak, Braff managed to reach his goal of $2 million in just three days, ending up with over $3 million from almost 47,000 people and the result is the offbeat but likable Wish I Was Here.
The film stars Braff, who also co-wrote the film with his brother Adam, as Aidan Bloom, a thirty-five-year old father desperately trying to work as an actor in Los Angeles, while struggling to support his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) and their two children, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Tucker and Grace are blessed to go to a private, Orthodox Jewish school thanks to assistance from Aidan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), which lightens the financial burden Aidan and Sarah are already having a hard time bearing. Tragedy strikes when Gabe reveals to Aidan that his cancer has reoccurred, he regretfully cuts the education fund for the children so the money can be spent on much needed radiation treatment. After realizing that no aid will be provided from the Orthodox Jewish school (make whatever joke you want, Braff sure does), Sarah proposes the idea of having Aidan, who is already more-or-less a stay at home father, homeschool the children, which leads to an early midlife crisis on part of Aidan, who wants to remain worthwhile and, most importantly, worth something.
If there has been a recurring theme in the films of 2014, between Birdman, Top Five, and now Wish I Was Here, it’s the desire to rise above critics and feel like you matter in a big way. Wish I Was Here concerns ideas of self-worth and personal pride in realistic ways, given the fact that Aidan’s lack of consistent income and casual disapproval from his father hurts in more ways than he allows be shown. Also affected by diminishing feelings of value is Aidan’s brother Noah (Josh Gad), who lives alone and relishes in the childlike whimsy of attending comic conventions and cosplaying rather than owning up to actual, adult responsibilities, again, much to the dismay of his father.
Wish I Was Here is also an interesting film about early millennials finally adhering to the responsibilities they long put off when they are forced to make challenging, life-altering decisions that were either ignored or made by one of their superiors. While Braff isn’t, by definition, a millennial, his filmmaking sensibilities reflect that of a generation driven by change, experimentation, and the lack of uniformed convention, and Wish I Was Here follows a couple who seemed to be taken by that kind of youthful idealism only to settle into having a family and accepting the same responsibilities their parents had to. Even if the characters aren’t handling situations in the fabled “right way” (case and point, when Aidan confronts one of Sarah’s coworkers who has been prolific in sexually-harassing her), we can at least see and accept the fact these characters are trying.
The film remains fiercely likable, never too unbelievable, and consistently funny, as Braff’s impeccable deadpan, verbal banter allows for a new layer of fun to be carried out, and when one views the film as an imploring wakeup call to grow up and accept responsibility, Wish I Was Here becomes one of the most important comedies of 2014.
8 out of 10 stars