‘Wish I Was Here’ doesn’t earn a recommendation

By Gary Clift

The last two movies I’ve seen in theaters—”And So It Goes” and, now, “Wish I Was Here”—have been modest-scale films, nearly indy pictures. They have each been directed by former TV stars, Rob “All in the Family” Reiner and Zach “Scrubs” Braff. They have each starred experienced leading actors—Reiner used Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, as well as himself, and Braff cast himself along with Kate Hudson and Joey “Ramona” King.

In each case the stories are about the death of a parent who has at least one son whose adult performance has been disappointing. Each film uses lots of songs. In “Wish I Was Here” (should that “Was” be “Were”?) the movie gets into a rhythm, giving us a brief scene or two, maybe ten lines of dialog, and then using a song to cover a dissolve to a new setting.

The songs don’t seem to have anything more to do with the stories than do those puzzling film titles. Is Bob Dylan’s great “Tangled Up in Blue” or James Taylor’s “Rockabye Sweet Baby James” about something that’s going on in “Wish I Was Here”? Not really.

Each of these movies seems jumbled. That is their most obvious quality. I liked “Wish I Was Here” better than “And So It Goes,” but I don’t like the newer movie enough to recommend it.

Braff’s story is that two brothers, inactive Jews, are approaching middle-age without having found occupations that make money. Noah (Josh Gad) lives in what seems to be Jim Rockford’s old trailer out on the beach and concerns himself with comic book fantasies.

Aidan (Braff) is a struggling actor whose one good deed for the film, helping a fellow actor before an audition, leads to the resolution of most of his problems. But that’s about all the good he does. Oh, he does spend some time and energy “home-schooling” his two kids (one of them being a pious little Jewess played by King).

The Blume boys’ father, a retired academic played by a very healthy looking Mandy Patinkin, is dying of cancer. He has spent the money intended for Aidan’s kids’ religious school tuition on “stem cell” treatments.

And that’s just about it. The film doesn’t so much tell a story as present a set of circumstances. Aidan wishes his wife (Hudson) was interested in sex, but he doesn’t seem to do anything to encourage her. Pop wants a toasted almond ice cream bar and to see Noah, maybe not one more than the other.

Hudson’s character has a make-work job at the city’s water department. She shares a “cubicle” with a guy who tells her his sexual organs talk. She thinks of this as “inappropriate.” She doesn’t seem to be made very uncomfortable by it, but she fixes on that word “inappropriate” as if what’s important is how the conduct would appear in court.

When she complains to her supervisor, he promises to move the guy out of the “cubicle” but also tells her to lighten up. Eventually Aidan has a confrontation with talking head, and this produces further desirable results, oddly.

Noah makes an effective spaceman costume to wear to a big comic-lovers’ convention. His odd love scene—both participants are dressed in their fantastic costumes—provides the movie’s most arresting image.

Aidan’s daughter cuts off most of her hair, apparently in protest of her removal from school. She mutters some dogma about making herself unattractive to anyone but her future husband.

While home-schooling her, which includes teaching her to swim—Aidan takes her to a cheap wig store with a big selection. She picks out a magenta page-boy which she then wears through most of the rest of the movie, as if having a really short do was somehow shameful. More shameful than wearing the wig.

In one case her short hair helps them. A car salesman thinks she must have cancer and so allows the Blumes to take a test drive in an Aston Martin. This seems pretty random in this film about the family’s surprising (and unearned) change of fortune, which just seems to come at about the same time Grandpa is checking out.

Shouldn’t he have been wanting to ride in a James Bond car? After all, he really does have cancer.

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