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July 17, 2014

Movie review: Unwieldy 'Wish I Was There' has a sitcom vibe

In this unapologetic, imperfect film, a 35-year-old struggling actor with a wife and two kids is grappling with life's small aggravations when he learns his father's cancer has returned and there is not much time left.

Struggling to find its tone, and trying to be all things to all demographics, "Wish I Was Here" is an unexpected darker-themed look at life through the comedic sensibilities of likable Zach Braff.

The star of the ubiquitous TV sitcom "Scrubs" broke through a decade ago with his first feature "Garden State," ruminating on life as 20-somethings.

This time, Braff's personal journey focuses on life responsibilities that have taken the wind out of his sails. The father-husband-son character Aidan seeks epiphanies and answers regarding life's big issues.

He also wants tidy endings to home-school dilemmas, matters of faith, a death in the family, better career options, reclusive geek brother, his wife's happiness, and a sexual harassment suit.

But life is messy, and that's a lot to ask of a modern movie script that also flits to Comic-Con, Hebrew school, and driving a swanky Aston-Martin along the Pacific Coast Highway.


After a string of duds, Kate Hudson hasn't been this good in years, and her deathbed heart-to-hearts with Mandy Patinkin ground this film.

A welcome bright spot, Jim Parsons elevates his minor role as a simpatico struggling actor.

Tony winner Josh Gad (Olaf in "Frozen") is the go-to nerd in movies these days, but he is believable as the slob-hermit in need of a life change.

Braff has an appealing Joe Everyman quality, so you follow him down this very meandering path in hopes of a better payoff.

The kids are cute, with Joey King ("The Conjuring") genuinely believable in an awkward age.

Mandy Patinkin puts the brakes on his bigger theatrical persona, and has a nice understated turn as the dying dad, although the retired microbiology professor character gets overly preachy and really harsh on his disappointing kids.

What Works

Braff and his brother Adam wrote the screenplay, so obviously it is rooted in reality about fathers and their relationships with their sons.

It is an earnest project and Braff wears his big ol' heart on his sleeve, with some sweet, sincere family moments in between calamity, chaos and snappy repartee.

"Garden State" was known for its eclectic hipster soundtrack, and this record collection has some "Who's that?" questions, so it's worth investing the time exploring it.

What Doesn't Work

Subplot threads run into dead-ends or veer off the path, and you're trying to keep up with the story's many unwieldy tentacles.

At times the film has more of a sitcom vibe than a grown-up movie project trying to be taken seriously.

Californians can get so whiny. Check out those stunning views from the trailer park, and "Snap Out of It!"

3 stars out of 4

Director: Zach Braff

Starring: Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad, Joey King, Pierce Gagnon, Jim Parsons, Ashley Greene

Rated: R for language and some sexual content

Length: 2:00

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