Zach Braff's new film “Wish I Was Here” had its premiere at this year's Sundance Film Festival, and I reviewed it out of that first screening. At the time, I didn't even think about the film as being potentially controversial. It's such a sincere, sweet, sharply-performed film that it seemed like an easy one to recommend.
I guess I was absent from the Film Critics Union meeting where we all decided that we're not allowed to like Braff's work anymore, past or present. That same meeting must have been where we all decided that because he used Kickstarter to help make the film, we must automatically hate the movie and review the way it was made rather than the film itself.
Already, I'm seeing plenty of snark today in response to the trailer for the film. Allow me to offer a counterpoint to that by saying that the trailer does a nice job of suggesting the tone of the film without giving away the entire thing. A good deal of the trailer is built around a few specific scenes in the film, presented here in a way that isn't about giving you story so much as a mood.
Braff is very good in the lead, but the cast around him is tremendous, and you just catch glimpses here of the various performers who bring the film to such vivid life. Joey King plays Braff's daughter in the film, and I truly believe she's going to end up being someone we watch for decades to come. She does really wonderful work in the movie, as does Kate Hudson, who hasn't been this good in a while. Mandy Pantinkin drew from some very personal places to play his part as Braff's father, who is battling cancer in the film, and just seeing a few glimpses of him again reminds me of what a quietly powerful piece of work this is for him.
While you might see the science-fiction stuff and some of the other imagery and think this is all over the place, it's really not. It's a very direct, very simple story, and the biggest difference between this and “Garden State” is that the earlier film is about a character at a point in his life when narcissism is practically a necessity. This is a film about looking outside yourself and how we live for our children and for our family after a certain point. It is a more mature and painful film than “Garden State,” and it seems to me to be confirmation that Braff's got something to say as a filmmaker. Here's hoping people give it a fair shake instead of getting hung up on this weird anti-Braff thing that seems to be such a popular game with the press right now.
“Wish I Was Here” will be in theaters in July.