Zach Braff’s Garden State is one of my favorite films. It was a funny, heartfelt and profound dramedy, populated with memorable characters and one of my favorite movie soundtracks. Ever since I saw that 2004 film, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Braff’s follow-up feature. Arriving a decade after his directorial debut, Wish I Was Here is Braff’s sophomore effort, a film that feels tonally and thematically similar to Garden State, but its execution couldn’t be more different. It’s rarely funny, its story is mostly uninteresting and it tries too hard to be profound and thematically moving. It’s never awful, but its mediocrity will still be a disappointment to Garden State fans.

Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a struggling actor, who is having difficulty balancing his time between work and family. The most success he’s had with acting is starring in a dandruff commercial, but he continues attending auditions, hoping that the next one will be his big break. His wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) has resorted to taking a dull desk job to support their children (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) and her husband’s dream. Their children attend a private Jewish school, until Aidan’s father Saul (Mandy Patinkin) is diagnosed with cancer and can no longer pay for their schooling. Not wanting to throw his children into public school in the middle of the semester, Aidan agrees to homeschool both of his children. But as he attempts to teach them, he begins to learn more about life than he could have expected.

It’s not a particularly interesting story, but there’s no denying that Braff has put his heart into it, hoping to make a moving picture. But the film is rarely moving and the majority of its emotional moments come across as far too hokey and melodramatic. In its themes and execution, the film almost seems intended for family audiences. This would be fine, if the film wasn’t populated with several weird sexual situations that feel horribly out of place. They’re intended for laughs, but they feel so strange compared to the rest of the film that I can’t help but wonder what Braff was thinking.

The plot may be cheesy, but each of the performers give it their all. Braff is solid as Aidan, a man with a family who is still unsure of what he will be doing with the rest of his life. A scene where Aidan attempts to homeschool his children is one of the most genuinely funny in the film and it provides Braff with the opportunity to use his comedic talents. Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin and Josh Gad all portray underdeveloped characters, but their performances are good and not the reason why their characters are mostly forgettable. Surprisingly, one of the best performances in the film also comes from one of the youngest actors; Joey King is positively radiant as Aidan’s daughter Grace. She manages to steal almost every scene that she’s in, so it’s no surprise that her character’s arc is one of the most interesting in the entire film.

With Garden State, Braff seemed to get everything right; with Wish I Was Here, he seems to get everything wrong. Even the soundtrack is forgettable, which is a crime that I would not have expected, given the excellent use of music in Garden State. The film is boring, way too long and mostly uninteresting. It’s a shame that it turned out this way because Braff has good intentions and he clearly put a lot of care into this. I had been eagerly awaiting Braff’s second feature for almost ten years, but after seeing Wish I Was Here, I probably won’t be quite as eager for his third.

Wish I Was Here receives 2/4

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