I didn’t intend to leave an hour into Wish I Was Here, the new Kickstarter-funded film from Zach Braff about white, young-ish people who follow their dreams. Currently in limited release, Wish I Was Here stars Braff as Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, father, and husband who (as the promotional text states) “at 35 is still trying to find his identity.” Kate Hudson plays his wife, Sarah Bloom, who provides for their family at an office job. When Aidan’s father announces he is dying of cancer and can no longer pay private school tuition for his grandchildren, the Bloom family embarks on an adventure to discover their true passions and happiness.
I was excited about the movie because I have warm feelings for Braff’s film Garden State, which I first watched as a teenager and whose soundtrack I listened to over and over again during the tail end of high school. Like Garden State, the new film’s soundtrack is heavy on The Shins and, despite its low rating on Pitchfork, the soundtrack resonated with me, capturing a sweetness and sympathy. Thanks to all this, I entered the theater hoping Braff’s new movie would be fun and endearing. Instead, I found myself sitting alone in a half-full theater watching a movie that was both frustrating and boring.
Braff has made “pity me” a genre with Garden State and Wish I Was Here. But in this film, I could not bring myself to pity him.
I kept thinking “Kickstarter?!” Before turning to Kickstarter to fund the film, Braff was about to sign a deal to make Wish I Was Here, but thought it would involve too many “sacrifices that would have ultimately hurt the film,” as he says on his Kickstarter page. Inspired by the funding for the Veronica Mars movie, Braff decided to crowd-fund Wish I Was Here, raising over $3 million from individuals. Watching Wish I Was Here, I felt that the Kickstarter donations were going to waste. Braff is a well-known actor with years of experience starring in Scrubs. He’s gathered a large fan base with Garden State’s success. He’s not a struggling artist who can’t find the support of a traditional film studio, like many interesting and forward-thinking movies that turn to Kickstarter to get off the ground.
Braff’s protagonist Aidan spends much of the film lamenting about the pursuit of his dream when he already has so much. In one scene, Sarah and Aidan discuss their frustrations with their life and Aidan begins to whine about how his wife needs to support his dreams. This cued a major eye-roll for me: so much of our culture is already centered around supporting men and their passions and that’s a dynamic Braff seemed to entirely miss when writing the film. With a $3 million Kickstarter, real-life individuals are paying to support Braff’s dream. Braff, a thirty-something white dude living in LA, then used all that support to follow his true passion of creating a movie that’s all about a thirty-something white dude living in LA following his dream. If individuals are collectively funding a film that hopes to be inspiring, the end result should be as dynamic and diverse as the people who pony up to support it. Instead, the film feels absurdly self-centered.
And, honestly, maybe Braff could have used the help of a traditional creative team on this film: the script feels sloppy, the humor falls flat, and Braff’s acting is not very convincing. After the grandfather announces that his cancer has progressed and he will soon die, Aidan, lacking emotional depth, just looks at his father and asks if he will still be able to pay tuition. Other instances that were meant to be comedic felt forced. This could just be my belief, but from the reaction in the theater, it seemed like the crowd was way over poop jokes, Braff mocking Spanish accents, and old men riding Segways into walls.
One of the sloppier parts of the film is how it treats Sarah’s job and her role as the family provider. Her workplace is ridden with harassing coworkers who distract her from her data entry position. Sarah reports the sexual harassment, which (of course) many workers do not do, and her supervisor just tells her to “loosen up.” This is, sadly, often a realistic response, but it felt like the film was trying to play it for laughs as the supervisor does impressions of the inappropriate comments. This part of the movie infuriated me. As someone who has been harassed in my workplace, I’ve felt how difficult it can be to summon the courage to report harassment as well as talk to a supervisor about it. Instead of creating a moment that could create awareness for sexual harassment in the workplace and how it is inappropriate, Braff turns it into an attempt to be comedic. The audience isn’t thinking about how unacceptable workplace harassment is, instead they are laughing at Sarah’s supervisor as he imitates the bad behavior.
In addition to Braff’s lackluster delivery, the characterization of Aidan and Sarah’s kids Grace and Tucker, played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon, is gratingly stereotypical. Grace is polite and loves school, while Tucker is a troublemaker who is thrilled about leaving private school. When Aidan decides to homeschool the two (because God forbid they attend public school), Tucker frequently interrupts his sister and takes over the geometry lesson.
Although there are many winding plot lines involving the father and Aidan’s internet mischief-maker brother, the main drive of the movie is about finding your true happiness and passion. Braff isn’t creating a new concept. Wish I Was Here is a “new logo, same taste” package of hopes and dreams. I couldn’t become invested in the characters and feel sympathy for the grossly privileged Aidan. By the middle of the film, I was so tired of Aidan whining about finding his passion that I just got up and left. I just kept thinking, “You raised $3 million and this is what you did with it?” There are far more interesting stories to be told.
UPDATE! At the request of several readers, I went back to the theater and watched the rest of this movie. It was not good.
Lucy Vernasco is Bitch’s new media intern. She recently wrote the article “Seven Studies that Prove Mansplaining Exists.”