Ironically even though they are both on the sidelines, the most resonant scenes belong to Kate Hudson as wife/mother, and Joey King (who steals the show in the daughter role). (JLH: 3/5)
Click HERE for our FF2 Haiku. Not yet seen by Rich.
Wish I Was Here is Zach Braff’s disappointing follow-up to his lovely 2004 Indie hit Garden State. Once again, Braff not only stars and directs, but he’s also written the screenplay (this time in collaboration with his brother Adam Braff).
The film begins with “Aidan” (Zach Braff) living an idyllic suburban life with his wife “Sarah” (Kate Hudson) and their two kids, “Grace” (Joey King) and “Tucker” (Pierce Gagnon). But in a turnabout of typical Middle Class expectations, it is not Aiden but Sarah who is the family’s main source of income. Kate puts on her business clothes and heads out to an office every day. Meanwhile Aidan—in casual clothes—struggles to find success as an actor.
But all is not well. One morning at breakfast, Sarah tells Aidan that he needs to get in touch with his father right away. Grace and Tucker go to a Jewish Day School, and Aidan’s father “Gabe” (Mandy Patinkin), who has always covered their tuition bills, has fallen behind on his payments.
When the reluctant son finally visits his father, Gabe informs Aidan that his cancer (which was in remission) is now virulent and he intends to use whatever money he has left on treatments, even if they are “alternative” and therefore against medical advice, and even if that means the tuition bills will go forever unpaid.
The conversation between Gabe and Aidan makes it clear that Aiden has never had too much love for the school, and he only sent his kids there because Gabe wanted them to go and was willing to foot the bill. But to please Sarah, Aiden goes to the school to makes his case… and the Senior Rabbi promptly shoots him down. He is filled with scorn when Aidan asks for tzedakah – a word Aidan only knows because he had asked Grace to coach him before the meeting – Aidan must settle down, get a real job, and assume responsibility for his family!
Sad to say, the whole scene looks like it was stolen from the Coen Brothers’ Oscar-nominated film A Serious Man: the Rabbi’s office, the way the Rabbi sits dwarfed by his big desk, it all looks so familiar. Did Braff intend to bow in homage? Whatever he was thinking, he made a mistake. A Serious Man is a parody; it is set in the past and it has a satirical tone. Wish I Was Here, by contrast, is emotional, sentimental, and even mawkish. “What is this?” I kept asking myself, with my teeth set on edge. “What is Braff trying to say here about the way Observant Jews look and act in 2014?”
But in truth, all this “Jewish stuff” amounts to nothing more than a plot hook. Since his kids can no longer attend their Day School and they don’t want to start at the local public school in the middle of the year, Sarah decides the only option is to home school them. And since she has to go to her office every day, “the teacher” who will take on these new home schooling responsibilities will be Aiden. Say what?!?
The Senior Rabbi comes to the hospital to console Gabe, presumably to help him reconcile himself to the fact that he is dying. He scoots around the hospital on a Segway, bumping into walls like a pompous fool. But he will not keep the grandchildren of this dying man in school for a few more months after all those years of paid tuition? Better he should lord it over the son, and teach him lessons about manhood just when the son is finally facing his long-buried Daddy issues? Oy!
But that would be taking what’s on screen much too seriously. Here’s the real point of it all: without this clumsy set-up, how would Braff justify all the cute bonding scenes he needs for his trailers? “Home Schooling” turns into test drives in sports cars and fence painting sessions in the back yard. Feh!
And yet, somehow one person does shine though all of this: Kate Hudson. Her relationship with Aiden — her husband — is totally by the book, and her work life is a joke. But she has two lovely scenes that almost make sitting through Wish I Was Here worthwhile.
The first is a scene with Grace – her daughter – set at bedtime. Grace, emulating her school friends, has fallen head-first into the Modern Orthodox lifestyle. Grace is already in bed. Sarah enters Grace’s bedroom cautiously and offers her daughter some new clothes, gently suggesting that since she no longer attends the Day School, Grace might want to start wearing clothes that are a bit less “modest.” After all, Sarah reminds her, Grace will be heading off to the local public school at the beginning of the next term… Young Joey King, as Grace, responds perfectly and this tiny scene between the two actresses is a gem.
Later Sarah goes to the hospital by herself to visit Gabe. Gabe is in bed. These scenes are mirror images of one another. Once again, Sarah positions herself at the side of the bed. And once again, Many Patinkin, as Gabe, responds perfectly. “Think of how you want to be remembered,” says Sarah to Gabe. The words are simple enough, but the acting is superb.
Truth be told, seeing Kate Hudson in Wish I Was Here was a big relief for me. Hudson was awful in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but now I no longer blame her. Now I think she was just poorly cast. If this part as Sarah is a career rejuvenator for Kate Hudson, then great. Otherwise, I have nothing good to say about Wish I Was Here.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (8/04/14)
Top Photo: Zach Braff as “Aidan” with his daughter “Grace” (Joey King) seen here in her “modest” Modern Orthodox outfit.
Middle Photo: Kate Hudson as “Sarah.”
Bottom Photo: Sarah and Grace discuss the future. This scene is a gem 🙂
Photo Credits: Merie Weismiller Wallace
NOTE: The press kit contained no photos of Mandy Patinkin.