Aiden Bloom (played by the perpetual indie rock man-boy Zach Braff) is a 35-year-old aspiring actor, husband to Sarah (Kate Hudson) and father to Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Grace (Joey King). Life is less than idyllic for the Bloom clan as they struggle through the trials and tribulations of a typical Jewish family in this modern age, but despite it all, Aiden is doing his best. All of this is upheaved when Aiden’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) lets him know that he has cancer. The comforts of Aiden’s less than perfect life become second to the task of not only ensuring a comfortable and loving end to his father’s life, but also to patching the void between Gabe and his estranged son, Aiden’s brother Noah (Josh Gad).
Wish I Was Here is a heartwarming story; it has depth and soul. We get strong performances by Braff and Hudson as they make a convincing couple of slowly aging parents, along with the wayward Noah, an intellectual slacker brimming with unused potential. Mandy Patinkin as the ailing patriarch Gabe is caustic and grumpy, but warm and vulnerable. The best performances in the movie come from the children, Tucker and Grace (played by Pierce Gagnon and Joey King, respectively). The children come off as natural and organic and enjoy great chemistry as brother and sister. Yet with all of this, there is still a strange disconnect with the movie. It disturbs me as one who enjoys movies because all of the elements of what I love are there, and yet, as the movie played on, I caught myself feeling unmoved by it all. Is it me? Am I the one dying?
After thinking about it a little, I came to this end: although well acted and shot, the movie is essentially a pornography of sadness. It is emotional carnage, literally containing all of the tropes that we’ve come to expect from middle-aged sufferers of ennui. Slow-motion sequences shot to lilting and wispy folk music as the daughter reads poetry. Moments where the dialogue is fraught with too much meaning and emotion. Sunsets that drip as meaningful glances convey what words cannot. It is a paint-by-the-numbers, middle-aged swan song and it feels just like that. Manufactured sadness.
To be clear, I’m not saying that this is a bad movie, it’s just a movie that you’ve seen before. Its familiarity is its greatest downfall; like some kind of thirty-something exquisite corpse of all of the visceral things that make hipsters on the brink of their quickly approaching 40’s shit their pants. Parents die, kids need to define themselves, broken bonds of friendship and brotherhood need to be mended and the dreams that we grasp so tightly are tempered with a dose of reality. It’s well done, but it’s painful without the beauty of sincerity.
If you were wondering what the people from Garden State got into during their later years, then look no further, this movie is for you. The fans of ironic whimsey, the playful freedom of innocence, and music that sounds like Iron & Wine meets The Shins.
Wish I Was Here opens today.