July 18, 2014 at 1:00 am

Review: 'Wish I Was Here' just is not all there

Joey King, left, and Zach Braff and Pierce Gagnon star in the comedic drama 'Wish I Was Here.' (Focus Features)

“Wish I Was Here” has a cool title, which like much of “Wish I Was Here,” feels like it was thought up before anything else having to do with it. It’s symbolic of a movie that’s not all there but wants to feel like it is.

The movie is Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded follow-up to his 2004 indie hit “Garden State,” the one that had that line about the Shins changing your life forever. Like “Garden State,” it is composed of handsome images (Braff’s cinematographer, Lawrence Sher, also shot “Garden State”) that lead the narrative rather than the other way around.

So when Braff’s character marches into a wig store with his family’s swear jar full of cash tucked under his arm, it feels like a moment that was cooked up because it would look cool rather than being the actions of a real person. Why would someone walk around with a swear jar instead of taking the money out and putting it in their wallet?

“Wish I Was Here” is full of these kinds of moments, bits that look great on screen scored to sensitive indie rock tunes but don’t carry much weight beyond that. The movie takes on some pretty hefty issues — life and death, religion, parenthood, midlife disillusionment — but it can’t muster up much more emotional honesty than a Hallmark card.

Braff plays Aidan, a thirtysomething struggling actor and father of two. His wife (Kate Hudson) is the sole supporter of the family, and their kids’ private school tuition has dried up because Aidan’s father (Mandy Patinkin) is using the money for his cancer treatments instead. Everything is crashing in around him, and on top of that, his wife is getting sexually harassed at work.

What’s a guy to do? “Wish I Was Here” sets up some big moments but doesn’t follow through on them, emotionally or otherwise. Like its title implies, it’s absent at its own party.

'Wish I Was Here'


Rated R for language and some sexual content

Running time: 106 minutes