Zach Braff’s Garden State was an indie wisp of a movie that managed to be just solid enough to justify its soundtrack. The soundtrack is back in force on his Kickstarted sophomore effort, but there’s little else to recommend in Wish I Was Here, which ends up somewhere between a hundred-minute trailer for an even longer movie—heaven preserve us—and the heartfelt manipulation of a Liberty Mutual commercial.
And heartfelt it certainly is. The movie, written by Braff and his brother Adam, relentlessly sympathizes with the struggling actor whose religious-schooled children are right out of Winsome Youngster central casting, whose wife (Kate Hudson) is too stressed for sex, whose brother (Josh Gad) is a genius burnout, and whose father (Mandy Patinkin) is in the final stages of cancer. Dialogue is liberally peppered with portentous topic sentences designed to make you think deeply about life; if you’re not affected yet, the tunes that underscore nearly everything should help you decide whether things are inspiring or maudlin. Either of those are preferable to the humor, which hopes for subversive and often just skews iffy. Aidan (Braff) isn’t allowed to audition for a part because they’ve “gone African-American” and pretends his daughter has cancer to score a ride in an Aston Martin.
It’s all the more frustrating given how many in the cast are trying to rise above what they’ve been given: Joey King as Braff’s daughter, Gad, and even Hudson have their moments. On rare occasions, the film even succeeds at tugging the heartstrings (if Mandy Patinkin’s choking back tears, so are you). But there’s tugging at and then there’s being hamstrung, and with flat, overblown moments building to a way-too-neat ending; Wish I Was Here just leaves you feeling a whole lot of nothing at all.