When Zach Braff took to Kickstarter to fund his new movie, “Wish I Was Here,” he explained to fans where their money would go: It would ensure his creative control, allow him to cast the actors he wanted, and enable him to shoot in Los Angeles, rather than someplace cheaper.
We can argue about whether these were worthy reasons to ask for $2 million (in fact, fans ultimately gave Braff more than $3 million, after which he also got traditional financing.) Certainly there was controversy — maybe not deserved — over whether a wealthy actor should be seeking money on Kickstarter. (If people are willing to pay, isn’t it up to them?)
But here’s a more urgent question: Why didn’t Braff use this money to make a better film?
For all the brouhaha, “Wish I Was Here,” which Braff directed, stars in and wrote (along with brother Adam), is so much less interesting than the circumstances of its making — not terrible, just frustratingly mediocre, and also corny, overly broad, meandering, not so funny where it intends to be, and not so sad where it intends to be, either.
And that’s a shame, because it’s taken Braff 10 years to get a follow-up to his debut, “Garden State,” into theaters. Fans of that film — presumably, they’re the ones who ponied up cash — deserved something better.
Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor in LA in his mid-30s, who’s far luckier in the family department than he deserves: He has two nice kids and a gorgeous, generous wife, Sarah (a very solid Kate Hudson, who also deserved a better film.)
Because Braff is cute and charming, we are, apparently, supposed to find Aidan cute and charming — which he might have been, 10 years younger. But there’s little cute or charming about the way he stubbornly eschews a decent career to pursue his “dream” — auditioning for bit parts in sci-fi movies that he doesn’t even get.
Naturally, he can’t afford his kids’ private school tuitions — that’s taken care of by his dad, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin, always a welcome presence.) Implausibly, though Aidan and Sarah are totally non-observant Jews, the kids (nicely played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) go to what looks like a full-fledged Orthodox yeshiva, run by a rabbi with a long, flowing white beard (Grandpa pays, so he chooses the school.)
One day, Gabe can no longer pay the tuition; his cancer has returned, and he’s getting experimental treatment. Sarah’s dead-end job, inputting data at the water authority, can’t pay the bills either. So Aidan decides he’ll home school the kids. The first day ends with him duct-taping them to chairs in front of the TV.
But it turns out Aidan’s actually more responsible than his brother, Noah (Josh Gad), a bitter, unemployed misanthrope hasn’t spoken to his father in ages. Told Dad is dying, he declines Aidan’s plea to go visit. He even refuses to take care of the dog, Kugel (yes, kugel — one of many, many broad Jewish jokes.)
There’s also an extraneous subplot in which Sarah’s office mate harasses her with inappropriate sex talk. When Sarah complains, her boss tells her to lighten up. The purpose of this scenario is telegraphed early: It sets up a chance for Aidan to show strength later by standing up for his wife. (Likewise, when Aidan’s daughter mentions she doesn’t know how to swim, a big flashing sign goes off, saying: Wait For Touching Swim Scene With Dad.)
The movie is filled with jokes that don’t seem particularly thought out. Maybe you’ll find this hilarious: at one point, one of the kids confuses al-Qaeda with weatherman Al Roker. (Well?)
The indie soundtrack, like that of “Garden State,” plays a big role; the title song, “Wish I Was Here,” is by Cat Power and Coldplay. It’s a very nice tune. Sitting in the theater for two hours, though, you may wish you were “Anywhere But Here.”
“Wish I Was Here” is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America “for language and some sexual content.” Running time: 120 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.