Sundance Review: Ten Years Since Zach Braff Brought GARDEN STATE to Sundance, With WISH I WAS HERE, Has Anything Changed?
BY ERIC KOHN
“I want to make more movies like GARDEN STATE. I mean, Woody Allen was my hero. He’s someone who, in his heyday, in the era of his films that I love the most, was making movies that were just taking the social temperature of his group of people in New York City, and I’d like to make more movies like that for people my age.”
—Zach Braff, 2004
A decade has passed since actor-writer-director Zach Braff made the above declaration in an Indiewire interview at the Sundance Film Festival. Despite his idealism, Braff wouldn’t succeed at directing another feature for a full 10 years, but his wish finally reached its completion this past week at the Sundance Film Festival, with the world premiere of WISH I WAS HERE, the widely documented Kickstarter-backed comedy in which he also stars.
Now almost 40, Braff remains a Sundance darling: WISH I WAS HERE, an excessively sentimental, eagerly goofy by-the-books dramedy about midlife anxieties and suburban discontent, landed a sizable deal with Focus Features shortly after its premiere — not unlike the swift process by which “Garden State” was picked up in a joint arrangement with Miramax and Fox Searchlight 10 years ago.
GARDEN STATE instigated immediate cult-like worship followed by the inevitable backlash to its capricious humor in the ensuing years. Yet while that movie was an easy target for cynical takedowns, WISH I WAS HERE is begging for it in a different way: While it generated several months’ worth of headlines about Braff’s crowdfunding approach, the resulting movie is far more forgettable than its production history. Littered with delicate pop songs, goofy one-liners and broad caricatures, “Wish I Was Here” stars Braff as struggling actor and deadbeat dad Aidan Bloom, a one-note Woody Allen knock-off adrift in a sea of sitcom clichés: While his good-natured wife (Kate Hudson) urges him to find a real job and struggles with her own soulless office job, Aiden copes with the news that smarmy father (Mandy Patinkin) has cancer and can no longer afford to pay his grandkids’ Jewish school tuition.