In his bittersweet debut film “Garden State,” Zach Braff played a character ironically named Andrew Largeman, an aspiring actor who had shrunk inside himself since the death of his mother. Ten years and a Kickstarter campaign later, Braff has directed his second offbeat dramedy, playing another actor with a carefully chosen name.
Aidan Bloom (Braff) needs a little help growing up. He’s 35, the father of devoutly Judaic tween Grace (Joey King) and her younger brother Tucker (Pierce Gagnon). Although Aidan hasn’t earned a paycheck since a long-ago dandruff commercial, he convinces himself that wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) is perfectly happy to support the family with her cubicle job while he pursues his dream.
The dreamer gets a spritz of seltzer when his widowed father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), picks a particularly bad time to announce he has cancer. Thus he can no longer afford to pay for his grandchildren to attend Hebrew school.
Aidan’s woe-is-me response to his burdens, which also include a deadbeat brother (Josh Gad) who won’t make peace with their dying father, is reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ film “A Serious Man,” while the subplot about explaining death to the children echoes a theme in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.” But as in “Garden State,” which was a riff on “The Graduate,” Braff is looking back even further, to the absurdist cinema of the ’60s and ’70s. “Wish I Was Here” is the kind of comedy that might have starred a young Alan Arkin.
Cynics will say that in trying to juggle humor and drama, Braff has produced sentimental scrambled eggs, with emo music by the Shins and Coldplay to accompany the meal. It’s a recipe that works best at Sundance, where the film premiered in January. But mainstream audiences will note that Hudson has never been better and that the tearjerking taps into something universal. For audiences seeking shelter from superhero carnage, “Wish I Was Here” is a lovely place to be.
What “Wish I Was Here” • Three stars out of four • Rating R • Run time 2:00 • Content Adult language and some sexual content