I think Zach Braff got a raw deal.
I said it during Sundance. I've said it a few times since. And each time I see someone unload on Braff anew, I shake my head because I think it is, for the most part, unearned.
No one makes art that is universally loved, and sometimes, the art you make is art that either grows in esteem over time or that is popular for a short time before facing a backlash. If anyone understands backlash, it's got to be Brafff.
I remember when “Garden State” came out. I remember how many people had the soundtrack with them constantly for a year afterwards. I remember hearing people talk about seeing the film. It was easy to like. It's a slick movie. I think Braff knew exactly what he was doing, and the film worked like a shiv. He just slid it right in, no matter what your defenses, and I think that makes some people angry. They don't like it when a film pokes at them like that, especially a few years down the road.
“Wish I Was Here” got me way more more than “Garden State” ever did, and I think the difference is obvious. “Garden State” is about a period in someone's life where there is an allowance for pure, unfiltered narcissism because you need to figure out who you are and what you're doing. You should be preoccupied with yourself until you figure out how to make that thing that you are into something self-sustaining. That's the endgame, I would think.
With “Wish I Was Here,” he's telling a story about living for someone else. It's about waking up from that inner focus to the realization that there are people who depend on you for everything. It's about making the transition from child to parent and realizing just how much that can sneak up on you. When we finally sat down to talk about the film, it had been months since Sundance and since people had their last big online meltdown about Kickstarter and whether or not he was going to pay people back after the film sold to Focus, and we ended up running longer than we normally would in one of these interviews.
We talked about casting the kids in the film, we talked about some of the reasons he couldn't make this film within the studio system without compromising the things that made him want to make the film in the first place, and we talked about some of the blowback he's felt over his decision to crowdfund part of the film's financing.
“It all comes down to what your foreign box-office has been. It's all based on this algorithm. If you have no overseas box-office, you can't get a movie made.”
That is a depressing truth, and Braff gets into it in detail in our conversation. I think he's a smart, open guy who makes very earnest films. That may not be everyone's cup of tea, and I know that sincerity is the easiest thing to make fun of, but overall, I'm glad he's making the movies he's making his way.
“Wish I Was Here” opens on Friday in NY and LA.