No matter where Zach Braff gets his money from—Kickstarter, Hollywood or the piggy bank—he still only knows how to make one kind of movie: cutesy, faux ironic, desperately emo and aggressively indie. In the case of 2004’s Garden State, early to the trend, he got away with it. But his shtick now seems fossilized, especially in the context of so many superior filmmakers (from Judd Apatow to Richard Linklater) mining the setup of anxious parenting for real insights. Wish I Was Here has a too-familiar L.A. family in crisis: the glibly failing actor dad (Zach Braff), the long-suffering wife with her own dreams on hold (Kate Hudson), the precocious kids who’d benefit from a little personal attention.
Plotwise, the movie is a shameless pileup of clichés. A cancer-stricken father (Mandy Patinkin) requires some belated bonding before it’s too late. Meanwhile, Braff’s daughter is going through a wacky hair phase, and a joyride in an Aston Martin (with salesman in terrified tow) is part of the psychic healing. Even worse than the film’s preprogrammed structure are Braff’s formulaic instincts as a sequence builder, drenching moments in slo-mo and Bon Iver for instant bathos. Some will find the director’s toothless brand of epiphany comforting (and download his mixtape), but the vast majority will find it tired.
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