Review: “Wish I Was Here” (**1/2)

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Pierce Gagnon, Zach Braff and Joey King star in “Wish I Was Here”

I was bouncing with anticipation prior to watching Zach Braff’s most recent, crowdfunded, writing/directorial feature “Wish I Was Here,” which is why I’m disheartened to write what is about to be an extremely lukewarm review. Perhaps part of this feeling results from my difficulty in disassociating “Wish I Was Here” from “Garden State.”

I loved “Garden State.” Though I wouldn’t rank it among my Top Ten, it easily ranks among my Top Twenty Favorite Films. It’s strange and expressive and not at all geometrical. The soundtrack in “Garden State” is purposeful and thoughtful and fulfills its duty in emotionally supporting the characters without inundating them in anyway. The evolution of the soundtrack is perfectly synonymous with the growth of the characters. In “Wish I Was Here,” I found there to be a nearly opposite effect. I was so interested in the song choices that I stopped thinking about the movie and focused on the lyrics and instrumentals in the songs themselves. They’re gorgeous songs, and I’m glad to have heard them, but the soundtrack didn’t at all enhance my viewing of the film, if anything it removed me from it.

I think that my fundamental problem with “Wish I Was Here,” though, was that it tries too hard. To do what? I’m not sure. To be what? I don’t know that either. But the film is quick to betray the effort and wiring behind it; the frame is simply saturated with too swift and too practiced dialogue. The evolution of Braff’s character, Aiden, was far too smooth and hurried to be real. And I don’t need anything to be “real” when I watch film, but when the movie claims to be such, which I think “Wish I Was Here” does, then that’s exactly what expect. “Wish I Was Here” is so stylized and visually gorgeous that I couldn’t help but be aware of the fact that I was watching a movie.

The moments of “Wish I Was Here” that I sincerely enjoyed were very small moments. Places in the film where Aiden and his two kids are simply being together. One scene involves Aiden repairing a broken fence in their backyard with his son while his daughter recites Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” (the poetry itself I’ll get to in a moment), and the other scene revolves around Aiden’s daughter, without knowing how to swim, jumping into the pool and into Aiden’s arms. There was this sudden slo-mo in both of these scenes, an effect that I suppose Braff does purposefully. With this he’s able to emphasize the idea that these small moments are the ones that make up our lives. And more often than not, we tend to miss them or forget them, but that’s not really acceptable, because as people, we are our collective small moments. That’s what our lives amount to. And we need to do a better job, as people, to recognize those moments, to slow down time and appreciate them. And I really enjoyed that kind of sentiment.

The poetry in the film, though I adore poetry as a literary medium, felt contrived and overwrought to me. It just felt so wildly forced. I wanted to see the effect of the poem without having to actually hear it. I’d much prefer to see a scene where I’m reminded of a poem, or it looks like a poem as opposed to hearing one read to me.

2.5 out of 5 stars.

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