In 2004, Scrubs star Zach Braff returned to his home state of New Jersey to write, direct, and star in $2.5 million micro-budget feature film Garden State, which went on to gross $35 million at the box office and earned both critical acclaim and cult status. Last April, Braff took to Kickstarter to fund his recently released feature, Wish I Was Here, which he, as with Garden State, both directs and stars in (though this time he has cowritten the script with his brother Adam Braff).
Zach’s second feature has much in common with his first. He once again plays a failing actor (this time in Los Angeles). He again comes into conflict with his family (10 years later, Braff is no longer Garden State’s twenty-something prodigal son come home, but now an almost-forty husband and father). There are more quirky visuals in symphony with on-the-nose dialogue that tirelessly works to solve life’s big mysteries. We also get a second soundtrack that is arguably stronger than the film itself. Not that plot is of particular concern to Zach, but if it’s of concern to you, the story revolves around Aidan Bloom, an out-of-work actor transitioning into a role as a stay-at-home dad, his dying father (Mandy Patinkin), his ne’er-do-well brother (Josh Gad), his superhumanly supportive wife (Kate Hudson), and their two children (Pierce Gagnon and Joey King). There are eccentric set pieces by the barrelful (a magenta wig, welder’s goggles, the furry feet of a Comic Con costume, and the Southern California desert are of particular note) and a lot of waxing philosophic.
The film has a similar vibe to Garden State. The problem is that 10 years have passed between the two movies. A disaffected twenty-something’s worldview is a lot less sympathetic/interesting coming out of the mouth of a family man verging on middle age. The emotional logic of the story feels stunted and juvenile and seems to be written by someone much younger in years than either Braff sibling. Where Zach’s strengths lie are in his abilities as a director; he is a magnet for major talent, gets great performances out of his cast, and has a strong eye for stunning visuals. But he lags considerably as an actor and screenwriter. This would have been a much stronger film had he cast another lead and brought a superior writer on board. I would love to see future movies in which Zach wears fewer hats. Only then do I think we’ll be able to appreciate his strengths as a filmmaker. Right now, his flaws are just too distracting.