Ten years after Garden State, Zach Braff has given us another melancholy yet hopeful story with Wish I Was Here. In some ways, Braff’s character, Aiden Bloom, is an older version of his other characters. Aiden is a dreamer prone to slipping away into daydreams (JD from Scrubs), as well as a struggling actor with father issues (Largeman from Garden State).
Aiden and his family are going through crises of life and faith. Aiden continues to pursue his acting dream even though he is out of work for long periods of time. His father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), is dying of cancer. His wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), supports her husband and their two children with a job that she hates (and is rightfully getting sick of it). The kids (played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) are pulled out of their Jewish private school because their parents can no longer pay the tuition. His brother, Noah (Josh Gad), is still angry with his father for being treated like a disappointment and refuses to visit him.
Aiden, in his mid-30’s, is finally forced into his coming-of-age story after being allowed to remain in his own world for so long. His character is selfish and childish, but it is interesting to witness him finally catch on to his behavior and work to change it. On the other side of the coin, Sarah’s realization that her own pursuit of happiness is just as important strikes a cord in those who have sacrificed much in order to provide for others.
The most important message conveyed by Braff’s film is that we are not perfect, and life does not often happen the way we wish it would–or the way we were promised growing up. We stumble along the way. We are constantly facing decisions about our careers, our family, and our spirituality. Many times we are lost, but we can learn from our mistakes and search for meaning within our lives. To change the status quo is an act of bravery that allows you to find what you have been looking for.
The grief associated with Gabe’s death is particularly heart-wrenching, but Braff keeps your spirit up with pockets of comic relief throughout and yet another amazing indie folk soundtrack.
Wish I Was Here can easily be criticized for sticking too close to the Garden State formula, but I think many of us 20- or 30-somethings will resonate with the themes of drifting from faith, figuring out if we should keep reaching or just settle, and handling the loss of our parents.