Monday, July 21, 2014

Wish I Was Here...

You know how different films speak to you at different times in your life?

For instance, I discovered Fight Club when I was buried beneath the black waves of a mental illness. That film named things in me that were a tangled mess impossible to sort. Director David Fincher is in my top ten list because of Fight Club, and probably always will be.

Director Zach Braff is in my top ten list because of his first film, Garden State, which came into my life at just the right time. Remember this scene?

When the main characters stood on top of a dead construction vehicle in the rain and screamed into an abyss. I knew what screaming into an abyss felt like. And that's only one small moment in a film made up of moments that felt achingly familiar -- shots that felt like sucker punches in scenes that felt like dejavu dreams in a film that felt like a transcription of my life.

Today I saw Braff's new film, Wish I Was Here.

The trailer is great, but the title was enough to drive me to the theater. The title speaks volumes and I knew the film would be well worth my time.

Wish I Was Here features Braff as Aiden, a 35 year-old father without mooring. As an out-of-work actor, Aiden struggles with the blows to his self-esteem the lack of a job will deal anyone, along with a feeling of disconnection with his family and ultimately, himself. There's an out-of-body feel to what he goes through, like he's watching it from the outside, which is something I enjoyed so much about Garden State. In fact, there are many thematic similarities between the two films, with a decade of age and experience to separate them.

Kate Hudson is luminous as Aiden's wife, and Mandy Patinkin is brilliant as Aiden's ailing father. And Joey King is almost in a shaman role as Aiden's pre-teen daughter Grace, so sure in her faith where her parents seem so lost. There's a lovely and painful sibling dynamic as well, with Aiden's brother played by Josh Gad.

Aiden tends to drift off when put upon, and throughout the film, we see a spaceman running to or away from something.

In the end, we discover what he was fleeing, and even though I knew what it would be, it made the reveal no less satisfying.

Here's a still of one of my favorite scenes in the film:

When Aiden is disheveled and tired and terrified and he has to face something. Something that stands for other things. And it's brilliant.

A fellow Braff fan on Twitter asked me what I thought of the Rotten Tomatoes grade (poor) and I knew it would take more that 160 characters to explain. 

Poor reviews I read said the film was, "predictable," "unfocused," "mismanaged," "covering no new territory," and that the main character is "whiny," and "unsympathetic." Leonard Maltin said the film never gels, ". . . veering wildly from strident sitcom-style comedy to genuine pathos."

My response: 

Zach Braff knows what he's doing. Every choice he made behind the camera, and in front of it, was in service to this story. The story of a man who is completely lost. Guess what? Life is predictable sometimes. It's unfocused and mismanaged and sometimes we all live eerily similar stories.that all feel the same. Why can so many people relate to each other? Because we've covered the same emotional territory. And sometimes we're whiny, and people have a hard time loving us. And Leonard, life veers wildly from comedy to pathos. That. Is. LIFE.

Braff has crafted a piece of art that tells the story of a disjointed and messy life in which there are moments of pure, poignant beauty. And the film imitates that life deliberately. There are no accidents here. But not everyone will get it. I don't want to comment too much on specifics, because SPOILERS, but I get it. I got it.

I've been experiencing frustration and disconnection and not knowing where parts of myself disappeared to. I was on the phone with Geary last night, telling her about it and WHY doesn't this thing just work out and WHY is it this way and WHAT the hell is with this pervasive zeitgeist of emptiness and WHEN am I just going to get through this and be okay? 

Then just 14 hours later I saw Wish I Was Here.

When the film comes together in the end, gelling into a series of vibrant images as Grace plunges through her fear into a swimming pool of the unknown -- that moment when you push through the depths, feeling as though you will drown any moment, caught in this zeitgeist of emptiness, until you break through into the joy of that perfect embrace that life will inevitably offer -- that's when Wish I Was Here reminds us: life is crappy and beautiful and difficult and messy and poignant and perfect because there's only one. There's only this one life.

Don't forget to LIVE it.

I left the theater changed. And that's the best compliment any artist can receive.

Thank you, Zach Braff, for Wish I Was Here. Thanks for reminding me that it's okay to be a little lost, and that I'm not alone in feeling this way, and that we'll all come out on the other side and just. . . to live.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading. Since you are a fan of Garden State, I think you'll like it.

  2. I rarely get out to the theater, but now know I must see this movie. I share your love of Zach Braff (and have tearfully replayed the last 10 minutes of the Scrubs finale more times than any normal person would/should- of course). Love this post, love you!

    1. I think, as a person who's had a LOT of intense experiences, it will really speak to you.

  3. I think I will have to go to see this movie. i have felt very similar as of late and I think I may be able to connect to this movie.

    1. It's very good. It's not clean. But life isn't clean. It's dirty and difficult and sometimes people scream curse words and that's part of why I liked this movie.


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