Film Review Wish I Was Here

“Maybe we’re just the regular people; the ones who get saved.”

Ten years ago, a movie struck a chord with me. It spoke about how “growing up” continues well into our twenties and how we can sometimes find ourselves out-of-place in that time. It was quirky and cute, but came built with a high degree of honesty. I’ve never stopped liking that film, but in recent years discovered that I had outgrown it…mostly because I am ten years older and don’t feel the way I did in my mid-twenties.

This summer, that film has brought forth what is being called a “spiritual sequel”. One wonders if a story that’s ten years older should still focus on the feeling of being out-of-place?

WISH I WAS HERE is the story of Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff). A struggling actor, Zach is happily married to Sarah (Kate Hudson) and the father of Grace and Tucker (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon). His children go to Hebrew School, and as our story begins we learn that there is trouble with their tuition – tuition being paid by Aidan’s father Gabe (Many Patinkin), and tuition that The Blooms cannot afford on their own.

When Aidan calls on his father to inquire about the tuition, he’s doused with a cold bucket of reality. Gabe is in the midst of a cancer fight, and the disease is aggressive. Things are so far-gone in fact, that Gabe is turning to alternative medicine…a decision that will end the children’s education fun and see them home-schooled by Aidan.

In the face of this news, Aidan looks everywhere he can for answers. He looks to his brother Noah (Josh Gad), who despite being incredibly smart suffers from heavy social anxieties leaving him somewhat stunted and surprisingly useless. He looks to his faith, asking rabbis and elders what God could be seeking from him through this test. None of them are able to guide him through teachings, suggesting that weaker men than Noah have found the strength to face harsher challenges. And he looks to his wife, who is every bit as worried and thrown as Aidan is…but who believes in their abilities and the love the family has in ways that bring out the best in everybody.

Surrounded by all of these questions and answers, an entire family tries to find its bearing…uncertain if they are walking home to safety, or further out into the wild.

WISH I WAS HERE is an emotional crisis, and because of that it is a very tangible experience. In this new century it feels as though all of us are subject to an emotional crisis every ten years or so. Nobody is too young, or too old. Nobody is too established, or too adrift. We are all prone to having life grab us by the collar and pull us in a direction we’ve been deliberately avoiding. One wonders if this is a new sensation, or if previous generations went through it too. If they did, maybe they were a little less vocal about it. Hell maybe they suffered in silence.

Ask your parents.

The problem with an emotional crisis is that it leaves one feeling overwhelming uncertainty – nothing is clear, everything is second-guessed, minor victories are major feats of willpower. So it is with this film.

Midway through this story, Aidan takes his children to the desert in the hopes of having an epiphany. Once there he bonds with them, speaks of spiritualism and philosophy, tells them about what has come before and what he hopes is yet to come. Then after a whole evening and morning pass in the presence of nothing but each-other and nothing but creation in every direction, the Bloom family packs up and leaves the desert…Aidan curiously without epiphany. It’s as if the film has asked us to walk into the desert and ask a holy man for the meaning of life, but once we get there the shaman only shrugs.

In a weird way, it’s apropos…but it’s also disappointing and confounding.

At its core, WISH I WAS HERE is the story of a son becoming a father. On paper it seems like it should happen the moment the grandchild is born, but this film presents – rightfully so – that there is still growing up to be done. The hitch is in that core conceit getting clouded with so much extraneous activity. There are minor flourishes that seem thrown in for the sake of quirk, which are cute but never seem to add much genuine flourish to the story. There are subplots involving Sarah’s workplace and Noah’s crush that are at best distracting, and at worst ill-conceived. Worst of all, there’s a flat-out odd visual metaphor that comes and goes at whim and never works even once.

If even one of these story elements added something to the conversation, it might be easier to overlook the rest. Unfortunately, they stack up like pancakes and it makes everything that much harder to swallow.

The contradiction inherent in telling a story of confusion is that it requires the most degree of clarity. So many of us are insecure…so many of us think we might have taken a wrong step, we might not be doing what we were supposed to do, that – in a sense – we’re “not ready for this”. In the face of this, we cannot handle one of our own getting up to the microphone, spouting off every worry in their head, ending it with a “dunno” and a shrug and walking offstage. We want someone to tell us it will be okay. We need someone to show us we aren’t alone. It’s not an easy task. Hell, often it’s a task even our closest loved ones cannot accomplish. It requires confidence, wisdom, empathy, and grace.

Zach Braff isn’t up for the task – at least, not this time. Many who will come to WISH I WAS HERE will identify with Aidan, and what they will want is a letter written in bold ink. What they get is a hurried note written in crayon. Like so many moments of confusion there are flashes of insight and beautiful visions…but ultimately indecision wins the day.

The son that is WISH I WAS HERE certainly grows up over the course of two hours, but it has a lot more growing to do before it can truly impart some fatherly wisdom.

Matineescore: ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on WISH I WAS HERE.