“Wish I Was Here” is the first movie directed by Zach Braff since his indie hit “Garden State” ten years ago. Serving also as the star and as co-writer (with his brother Adam), he has come up with a more mature work this time around – a not altogether difficult feat. Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor whose loving wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports him and their two children (played by Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) in a boring public service desk job.
When Aidan’s contentious father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) can no longer pay the children’s yeshiva tuition because of serious illness, Aidan, who disdains Jewish tradition and also public schools, decides to homeschool the kids. He becomes, in effect, a glorified camp counsellor for them. This is meant to seem funny and life-affirming but probably will do nothing for the kids’s SAT scores.
Braff plays Aidan with easygoing exasperation and Hudson is better than I’ve seen her since “Almost Famous.” As a director, Braff touches on lots of Big Themes: mortality, marriage, fatherhood, the disillusion of dreams. Nothing quite comes to full boil, though. Braff undercuts his best intentions with sitcom-ish shenanigans, as if he was afraid of losing the audience by going deeper. I hope he doesn’t wait ten years to again take the plunge. Grade: B (Rated R for language and some sexual content.)