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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray)
Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // October 28, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted October 23, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

If you were ever looking for a more accessible and more obvious take on The Coen Brothers' playfully dour Book of Job masterpiece A Serious Man, Wish I Was Here will work as a satisfactory substitute. It's also about a Jewish intellectual nearing middle age, with a socially awkward genius brother to boot, whose family life falls apart, propelling him into an existential crisis where he begins to question the meaning and validity of his life.

A lot of critics call Wish I Was Here a follow-up to director/co-writer/producer/star and probably caterer Zach Braff's 2004 hit Garden State. Usually, such designations are unfair when dealing with two works that don't share any of the same characters or the same universe. Yet in this case, I feel like the description is fair, since Wish I Was Here plays like a spiritual successor to Garden State, for better or worse.

If Garden State was an overly quirky indie about the angst and ennui that comes with being a 20-something, Wish I Was Here is a naturally more adult and slightly less-quirky examination of the existential quandaries that plague a 30-something.

I was the perfect age and in the perfect state of mind to appreciate (Or to be duped by, depends on how you look at it) Garden State when it came out. As a 24-year-old graduate film school senior surrounded by anxiety and confusion regarding women, relationships, lack of future career opportunities and an overwhelming sense of feeling lost in a universe that made no sense to me anymore, I couldn't be a better specimen to buy into the cult of Garden State hook, line and sinker.

Now that I'm in my 30s and a family man, I'm afraid to revisit it because there's a good chance I'll find it annoying, pretentious, sickeningly precious and downright insulting, and I don't want to mock my 24-year-old self any more than I already do. Perhaps I'll have similar feelings about Wish I Was Here ten years from now, but at least this time I can safely state that even though it contains some genuinely honest and heartfelt moments about the frustrations of being a 30-something, I didn't buy into Braff's brand of peculiarities quite as much.

Braff plays Aidan, an out-of-work actor and stay-at-home-dad with two children and a wife (Kate Hudson) who's the only one in the family who has any job security. When Aidan's traditionally religious father, who looks down on Aidan's inability to provide for his family while pursuing a dream as silly as acting, confesses that he's dying of cancer, Aidan's already crumbling self-worth and grip on life comes crashing down.

Since Aidan's father has to pay for his treatments out of pocket, he can't afford his grandchildren's expensive Hebrew school, leading to some scenes of awkward and forced humor as Aidan tries to home school his kids. Adding to all of this conflict is a supposedly genius brother (Josh Gad) who seems to have a case of Movie Asperger's (All of the comedic quirks, half of the painful emotional problems), who refuses to see his judgmental father in his deathbed.

Zach Braff wrote the screenplay with his brother Adam. Whether or not there are any autobiographical elements in the screenplay, they obviously know this world of LA-based Jewish upper-middle-class intellectuals and most of the dialogue and performances ring true. I especially liked some of the characterizations that were less typical for such an indie, like Aidan's daughter who's a true believer in Orthodox Judaism and provides an unusual spiritual anchor to the protagonist. This character's deep faith could have been used as an easy joke but Braff respects her too much to let that happen.

The cracks inside the foundation present themselves whenever it fells like Braff doesn't trust the simplicity of his own material and artificially adds a bunch of quirky indie clich├ęs. Some of these elements, like the father collecting every contact lens he's ever worn or the daughter giving her grandfather welding goggles so his eyes don't burn before he enters heaven all stink of such desperation.

The Blu-Ray:

Video:

Wish I Was Here's 2:35:1 aspect ratio, 1080p presentation is bright and clean without any concerning video noise. The film was shot with digital cameras on a modest budget, yet the excellent cinematography taking full advantage of the gorgeous LA locations make it look like a more expensive production.

Audio:

Apart from the considerable surround and subwoofer presence during the occasional sci-fi sequences where Aidan imagines himself to be a Luke Skywalker-like figure, the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 presentation showcases a subtle mix appropriate to such a drama. The dialogue is clear and Braff's trademark use of a hipster soundtrack gracefully whisper out of the front speakers.

Extras:

Deleted Scenes: A whopping 25-minutes of deleted material ranging from completely unnecessary to just unnecessary. We do get a cool sci-fi sequence set in snow, so that's something.

Directing While Acting: It sounds like an EPK, but this is actually a blooper reel showing Braff struggling to direct the other actors while on camera himself.

Outtakes from Aston Martin Dealership Scene: A brief set of bloopers where Bragg and his Scrubs co-star Donald Faison have fun.

Commentary with Zach Braff and Adam Braff: Zach Braff mostly takes over during this informative commentary that lacks energy.

Commentary with Zach Braff, Director of Photography Lawrence Sher and Editor Myron Kerstein: This commentary is more energetic as Braff and his DP talk in detail about some of the technical choices. If you have to pick one commentary to listen to, pick this one.

Final Thoughts:

Wish I Was Here is a passable study on being a 30-something the way Garden State was about being in one's 20s. It's not as emotionally stimulating or intellectually complex as it tries to be but it's also still smart and insightful enough to warrant a rental.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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