WISH I WAS HERE // After a decade since his directorial debut, Zach Braff returns with his crowd-funded darling “Wish I Was Here”. Once again starring as lead, Braff trades in his college student naivety for a more weatherworn adult role, as Aidan Bloom, husband and father of two. Playing the out of work actor, everyone in Aiden’s life continuously asks him when he plans on getting a real job. The long list of people includes his wife, Sarah, played by the stunning Kate Hudson, his father, Gabe, played by the legendary Mandy Patinkin, and even the rabbis at his children’s Jewish school; a school that his father pays for but can no longer afford due to unexpected medical bills. With the ever present distinction that his current state of affairs may overshadow his dreams, Aidan faces the ultimate choice.

Like him or not, Zach Braff has a definite acting and directing style that pairs nicely with independent filmmaking. With most critics not finding any redeemable qualities in his character, I, for one, found an authenticity to his portrayal, allowing the performance to come from a real place. Aiden is a living, breathing character with conflicting emotions and a sense of entitlement that most everyday people walk around with. And life gets in the way. Whether its his daughter (Joey King) shaving her head, his father receiving in-home hospice care, or his wife getting hit on by a creepy guy at work, Aiden takes on challenges that normal people face everyday and for that I respect Braff for taking a chance and telling a story from the heart. And there is plenty of heart, with one of the best emotional speeches this year coming from a heart to heart between Hudson and Patinkin on the discussion of legacy and what Patinkin’s boys (Braff and Josh Gad) need from him before he dies. Hudson and Patinkin both deliver honest and natural performances that highlight the tone of the film.

Unlike “Garden State”, Braff takes “Wish I Were Here” to a much more rich and fulfilling level. Where “Garden State” had quirk and off-beat humor, “Wish I Were Here” has reoccurring themes that provide humor, like casting calls including Jim Parsons and home schooling, plus a strong narrative arc that allows for an emotional resonance. What “Wish I Were Here” does share with “Garden State” is a soundtrack full of powerful popular music from bands like The Shins, Radical Face, Badly Drawn Boy, and Bon Iver, which take the sentimental moments to an entirely different level. Much like his days on “Scrubs”, Braff is unafraid to push the boundaries of his characters in new and interesting ways. He can be goofy but also take things to a serious tip. If you do not see any redeemable qualities in his characters, then maybe you are not looking hard enough. Whether Braff finds himself crowd-funding his next project or stepping back into studio work, as far as I am concerned, he will always have a place in limelight, especially when it comes to this low budget fare.

[Directed by Zach Braff] [R] [106 min] [25 July 2014]   09fourhalf-stars

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