It’s hard to believe that its been 10 years since actor Zach Braff took the indie film scene — and the rest of Hollywood, for that matter — by storm with his well-received, award-winning feature directorial debut, Garden State, co-starring Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Peter Sarsgaard. In Garden State, Braff played a […]
It’s hard to believe that its been 10 years since actor Zach Braff took the indie film scene — and the rest of Hollywood, for that matter — by storm with his well-received, award-winning feature directorial debut, Garden State, co-starring Oscar winner Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Peter Sarsgaard.
In Garden State, Braff played a struggling young, single actor at an existential crossroads who has a fundamental disagreement with his father, played by Ian Holm. In his sophomore directorial effort, Wish I Was Here, Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling, married 35-year-old actor with kids at an existential crossroads who similarly disagree with his father, played here by Mandy Patinkin.
In both films, the mother is long deceased, and the love of an extraordinarily supportive woman — Portman in Garden State, and Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) here — plays a key role in helping Braff’s character find some inner peace and happiness once the self-induced funk they’re in slowly fades away.
And, if those thematic similarities weren’t glaring enough, both films come fully loaded with soundtracks that are tailor-made to punctuate every montage and idiosyncratic choice. People often tend to write about what they know or that which feels familiar to them, in Braff’s case, he’s basically regurgitated the plot from his first effort and made a sophomore film that, while periodically diverting, is nonetheless a disappointment.
Braff has a good handle on creating conflict and writing punchy dialogue for himself and his male counterparts — Mandy Patinkin and Josh Gad are standouts here as Braff’s opinionated father and unapologetically wayward younger brother, respectively. The verbal interplay between Braff and Patinkin as they argue over everything, including but not limited to Judaism, is a hoot to watch, few actors can hold a candle to Patinkin when it comes to the art of deadpan delivery.
Yet, as was the case with Portman’s character in Garden State, Hudson’s supportive wife, Sarah, isn’t nearly as fully realized. It’s one thing to stand by your man, it’s something else all together to let him flail about doing nothing as you bust your hump day-in and day-out at a job you aren’t particularly fond of to keep your family financially afloat. Sarah proves to be more of an enigma than a three-dimensional woman despite Hudson’s best efforts.
Braff affords her one memorable scene where Sarah addresses everything she’s sacrificed during their marriage. And just when you think this revelation will bring about some much-needed change in their union, Braff introduces a subplot concerning Patinkin’s character that requires Sarah to continue to be the sacrificially supportive spouse she’s long been without complaint. Just like a man.
In the 10 years since its theatrical release, Garden State has attracted as many admirers as it has its detractors. And say what you will about that film, but Braff, who studied filmmaking at Northwestern, has a strong, unique visual style despite his overuse of musical montages to speed things along or to mask plotholes in the story. Speaking of which, there’s a completely unnecessary sci-fi subplot in the film that needed to be discarded as it brings nothing to the table. And Emmy winner Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Braff’s former “Scrubs” co-star Donald Faison are criminally underutilized in glorified cameos.
Inspired by the success of the Veronica Mars movie (which was fully-funded via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign) Braff partially-funded his film through a successful Kickstarter campaign as well. One of the reasons he states for doing so is that he wanted to retain complete creative control over the film. Let’s all hope he takes the road less familiar with his third feature film.
Grade: 2 stars (out of 5)
Stars: Zach Braff, Donald Faison, Josh Gad, Pierce Gagnon, Ashley Greene, Kate Hudson, Joey King, Jim Parsons, Mandy Patinkin
Directed By: Zach Braff
Written By: Adam Braff & Zach Braff
Produced By: Stacey Sher, Michael Shamberg, Zach Braff, and Adam Braff
Distributor: Focus Features
Rating: R, for language and some sexual content.
Running Time: Approximately 120 minutes
Budget: $6 Million
Release Date: July 25, 2014