BY DIANA CINA
“You’re in it right now, I can tell.” My friend and I recited that Garden State line over and over again after seeing the movie back in 2004. “By the way it says ‘balls’ on your face,” worked its way into our rowdy-night repartee. Admittedly, I went to see Garden State because of my crush on Zach Braff. He was adorable and made me laugh weekly on NBC’s Scrubs. I figured if Garden State sucked, I could amuse myself with Braff’s delightful face and call it a day. But, it didn’t suck. It was poignant, touching and spoke to a very relevant generational issue in an unpredictable way. Apparently I wasn’t the only one feeling lost and overwhelmed in the early stages of adulthood. I adored this movie.
It’s for that reason that I decided to back Zach Braff’s newest film on Kickstarter. Mock if you want, and many did, but people like me believe in Braff as a writer and filmmaker enough to support his work monetarily. My Garden State-loving comrade and I pooled some funds and donated to the project. Our reward included two tickets to see a pre-screening of Wish I Was Here in Chicago, followed by a Q&A with Zach Braff (eek!), along with a production diary, a copy of the script, a T-shirt, poster and a soundtrack sneak peek. No, we wouldn’t be receiving monthly royalty cheques, but the experience wasn’t about that. It was about getting an insider’s look into the filmmaking process from an artist that I believe in.
Braff and company kept to their words by including the 46,000+ backers in all their movie-related activity. Braff sent cheeky email updates and announcements, like the casting of Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin and images from potential shooting locations. My coworkers at the time had to listen to me say things like, “Zach just emailed me. We got Josh Gad!” I was stoked, so their not-so-subtle eye rolls didn’t bother me. For those brief seconds, I felt like a mini Harvey Weinstein. If my hundred dollars got me this kind of access, I wonder what his billions give him? I digress.
Braff created exclusive videos with the costume designer, cinematographer and other essential players in the film’s production and his child-like excitement was palpable. The frequent correspondence, which often ended with “Love, Zach” made backers like me feel connected with the project. Without giving too much away, Braff explained the narrative arc and key concepts of Wish I Was Here. I could sense he was making another gem.
During the 25-day production of the movie, backers were sent weekly playlists that Braff had curated. As a music aficionado (much like myself), his song choices were impressive and made for perfect afternoon listening. Who could forget the famous Garden State soundtrack, that arguably launched the careers of several indie groups, including The Shins. He offered hints as to who would grace the soundtrack just by the song selection.
With the teaser and trailer leaving me covered in goosebumps, I was anxiously anticipating the final cut. My friend and I flew to Chicago, took in the sights and awaited the screening. As we got ready in our hotel room, I checked Twitter and spotted a tweet by Braff bestie Donald Faison, who announced he would be joining the evening’s Q&A. A Turk and J.D. reunion!!
The dynamic duo came running down the theatre aisles and introduced the film. As the movie began, the room filled with giddy backers applauded furiously. It was time for this whole experience to reach its apex.
Wish I Was Here is essentially about an out-of-work actor Aidan (Braff) who learns that his stern father Gabe, played exquisitely by Patinkin, is dying of cancer. Aidan’s wife Sarah (Hudson) is currently the family breadwinner and isn’t all that thrilled about it. Add two exceptional children Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon) and Aidan’s genius yet aimless brother Noah (Josh Gad) and you’re left with a raw and talented ensemble cast that pulls at your heart strings.
The movie tackles timeless issues, like strained familial relationships, as well as spirituality in a genuine and honest light. Braff and his real-life brother, Adam, who co-wrote the film, examine these life problems in an intelligent way. Just like in Garden State, Braff straddles emotional drama and light-hearted fun.
Patinkin and Hudson gave skilled and subtle performances, particularly in a mid-film scene between the two where Hudson’s character urges Gabe to tell his sons he loves them before he dies. It’s one of those rare on-screen moments where characters really connect.
As per the Kickstarter pitch video, the movie has several cameos from actors including Donald Faison, Jim Parsons and the late James Avery. Ashley Greene also has a small part in the film playing a Comic-Con love interest for Noah. Her character lacked development and her relationship to Noah seemed slightly rushed in comparison to the gradual pace of rest of the film. But this small hiccup does little to mar the film as a whole.
I dare you to see Wish I Was Here and not shed a tear and I double-dog-dare you to not reflect inward about your own life. Braff has said publicly that he is not likely to use crowd funding to make another movie, but you can be damn sure that if he did, I would chip in.
Diana is a Toronto-based freelance writer penning articles about all forms of entertainment, fashion and beauty. She’s passionate about The Wizard of Oz and adores any movie starring Jimmy Stewart. She’s aware she should have been born in the 1940s. Tweet her at @dianacina.