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By Boo Allen

Braff brothers’ ‘Wish I Was Here’ boasts an absence of substance

Wish I Was Here is a movie about what to do while waiting for someone to die. So, sit back and enjoy the guilt, recrimination, second-guessing and angst — plenty of angst. But wait, did we mention it’s a comedy?

Wish I Was Here marks the second feature directing effort from actor Zach Braff. He also co-wrote the script with his brother, Adam Braff. This pairing of brotherly authors raises the question about how much of what is seen on screen comes from the Braff family, which also includes novelist brother Joshua.

Zach Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor in Los Angeles, and also husband to Sarah (Kate Hudson) and father to two young children. The family survives thanks to a working mom and also from the contributions for the kids’ private Hebrew school from Aidan’s strict, religious father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

The angst starts steam-rolling in early when the overdominating Gabe informs Aidan that he, Gabe, has terminal cancer. Henceforth, his money will go towards miracle cures instead of to the kids’ education.

For some reason, Aidan takes it personally that he can’t find work, his father is dying, and that his kids face an uncertain near-future. He asks his rabbi, “Do you think God is trying to tell me something?”

Aidan, thanks to the character’s creators, has the best lines, so he can quip in the face of this dire adversity.

Aidan and the film itself hint that they might at least try to approach a greater meaning to all these problems. But instead, the unfolding narrative reveals little insight. Even when the local rabbi is asked for guidance, he becomes little more than another target for strained laughs.

Josh Gad plays Aidan’s younger brother, Noah, an estranged son shamelessly dragged in for the deathbed scene, the most manipulative moment of many. Like so much before, what is meant to be touching turns out to be mawkish. Even the few brief fantasy sequences seem to be devoid of substance.

Zach Braff’s overall directoral fumbling includes a tin ear complementing too many scenes with banal music overlays. Finally — and maybe cinematographer Lawrence Sher shares blame for this — the movie looks awful, consistently shot in a drab haze that adds even more darkness to an already gloomy environment.


Wish I Was Here


Rated R, 120 minutes.

Opens Friday at the Magnolia in Dallas.