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You’ll say, ‘Wish I Was There,’ when you see Braff’s new film

February 23rd, 2014 Posted in Arts and Life

By Katie Swain

PARK CITY—Ten years after his directorial debut with “Garden State,” writer, director and actor Zach Braff returned to Sundance to tears and a standing ovation as he screened the premiere of his second film, “Wish I Was Here.”

“Garden State was all the things me and my 25-year-old friends were obsessing about and talking about and worried about,” Braff said. “And I put it into a movie. And with this, my brother and I are sharing the things we’re talking about now.

“My favorite films are the ones that are a unique story,” he said. “No one else could have told this story that my brother and I wrote. We just try to be super honest and put it all out there for better or for worse. Just rip open your jacket and be like, ‘Well, whether you like it or not, this is what’s in us.’”

With a stunning cast including Kate Hudson, Josh Gad, Mandy Patinkin, Joey King, Ashley Greene, Zach Braff himself—and of course a cameo appearance from Braff’s “Scrubs” costar Donald Faison—“Wish I Was Here” received more than $3 million of it $5 million budget by fans and supporters via Kickstarter. Braff said he was originally faced with the prospect of having to cut and compromise his film until his producer Stacey Sher suggested appealing to his loyal Internet fan base for help.

“The goal was a month — and in 48 hours the entire project was funded by my fans, 47,000 people,” Braff said. “I’ll thank Stacey ’til the day I die.”

“Wish I Was Here” focuses on Aidan Bloom (Braff) a 35-year-old aspiring actor in Los Angeles with a wife, two children, and an overbearing, Jewish Orthodox father, Saul (Patinkin). Relying heavily on the income from his wife Sarah’s (Hudson) income, and his father’s monthly checks for their children’s private school education at a nearby Jewish school, (the money only comes in on the condition that Saul chooses where the kids go to school) Aidan is struggling to make any financial contribution to his family as he searches for his purpose and identity.

Aidan’s precariously balanced life is given a sharp shake when his father announces his cancer is back and he’ll have to use his funds for treatment rather than his grandchildren’s education. Upset at the prospect of leaving his children to the less than desirable public schools in the area, and confused about how to handle the terminal illness of the father he has had a very cold and difficult relationship with for years, Aidan is forced to deal with bigger issues. Attempting to bring his family together again he begins trying to repair things with Saul and his rather estranged younger brother Jonah, (Gad) who lives alone in a trailer playing video games and ignoring all human interaction despite his genius-level IQ. On a bigger level Aidan is faced with the issue of his own spirituality, after his earlier rejection of the very strict Orthodox Jewish religion he grew up with, as things like more and more terminal for his father.

Braff wrote the script with his brother, Adam Braff. But despite the brother reunion and family forgiveness themes, Braff said that part of the movie wasn’t based on his real-life relationship with his brother.

“The movie was a combination of both our lives,” Braff said. “There were lots of little things in our lives that are there. But In terms of big picture, my brother and I have a wonderful relationship with our father and each other. And so themes are there from our shared experiences, but it’s mostly fictional.”

Fiction or not, the raw and very real emotion of the film is what makes it a movie everyone can connect with. Decidedly serious in nature, “Wish I Was Here” gives hope for people struggling with similar issues of spirituality, purpose, family, and death. Breaking up the tear-jerker scenes is the quirky, funny dialogue we’ve seen from Braff before. Funny, but perhaps a little overdone, is the way Braff repeatedly jokes about the seriousness of Orthodox Judaism, in a very Jewish centered film, with a very Jewish cast. While visually beautiful and thought-provoking it was moments like those that made it clear Braff was working maybe a little too hard to create that effortless glimpse into real life he captured so well in “Garden State.”

The film was bought by Focus Features for $2.75 million, which Braff said he was “very excited” about. However, this is half the amount “Garden State” was bought for 10 years ago. While brilliant and warm at tackling serious issues, perhaps the public prefers young, angsty Braff in all of his “Garden State” glory to the mid-life crisis, Orthodox Jewish father he becomes.


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