Aidan (Braff) is a loving father and husband, but a useless provider whose acting career peaked with a shampoo ad years ago. When family illness drives him to home-school his children, it's time to grow up.
Being arguably the highest-profile film yet to use Kickstarter for funding — a battle it can duke out with Veronica Mars — doesn’t mean Zach Braff’s second movie should be judged any differently from any other release. But it does mean it has perhaps more duty to provide what Braff’s audience wants, as opposed to simply what he wants to do. Those who opened their wallets in expectation of a middle-aged Garden State largely get what they paid for.
Wish I Was Here (that small grammatical wrong is grating but we must endure), like Garden State, positions Braff as a man who has lost his focus, is completely self-obsessed, but can turn it into a lovable quirk, and will learn that there is more to be had from life by living it with other people instead of in theoreticals in his head. Braff is Aidan, an actor, but an actor in the sense that he goes to auditions for terrible parts he doesn’t get, as opposed to in the sense that he actually acts. He seems to be more third child to a wife (Kate Hudson) with saintly patience, doing as little around the house as his daughter (Joey King) and son (Pierce Gagnon). He is a placeholder of a man, until his dad (Mandy Patinkin) reveals he’s sick and can no longer pay his grandchildren’s school fees. So Aidan decides he will school his own children.
Braff’s story grants him a great pile of ideas to play with: parent-child relationships (son, daughter, adolescent and adult varietals); the end of childhood; the end of life; marriage; sibling rivalry; religion; how to deal with unwanted dogs. It’s a little too much. He doesn’t have the time to tell everything properly, creating a film that touches gently on subjects that need a good grab and a prod. He wants to do too much, which is admirable — better too much ambition than none at all — but it means he doesn’t get enough of a swing for the emotional punch he wants.
When Braff manages to pin down his tone, there are moments of sweet wisdom — a bedside chat between Patinkin and Hudson condenses an entire relationship into a short exchange — but mostly this is like a scrapbook of thoughts still waiting to be properly arranged.
Since the adorable, simple Garden State, Braff's ambitions as a filmmaker have grown. He's reaching for answers to really big questions, but they are, just slightly, beyond his grasp.