A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wish I Was Here is an affecting (if uneven) dramedy about adults finally acting like adults when faced with illness and adversity. There are plenty of humorous bits, but the themes are heavy: mortality, dysfunctional parent-child relationships, forgiveness -- which makes it too intense for tweens and younger teens. The parents here are definitely far from perfect. They swear in front of their kids (including "f--k"), and they don't always know what to do. One man smokes weed in his child's school parking lot. There's also some kissing/implied sex, but no nudity. Expect lots of brands on display, particularly Apple products.
What's the story?
Aidan (Zach Braff) is a thirtysomething actor still waiting for his big break. A father of two, he shuttles between auditions for small parts that barely pay the bills while his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), works at the water department, enduring a colleague who doesn't know how to have appropriate conversations. Because the public schools in their area aren't very good, their kids are enrolled in yeshiva (even if Aidan and Sarah aren't particularly religious), for which Aidan's father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), is paying. It was his one rule: He gets to choose if he pays. But when Gabe's cancer comes back, necessitating last-ditch treatments that he has to pay for out-of-pocket, Gabe can't foot the bill anymore. Aidan and Sarah can't afford school, so they pull the kids out, much to their dismay, especially their daughter's; the plan is for Aidan to homeschool them as he helps Gabe through his treatments. Meanwhile, Gabe longs to see Aidan's younger brother, Noah (Josh Gad), a blogger who hasn't forgiven his dad for his dysfunctional fathering. Aidan valiantly tries to keep it together, but it's barely working.
Is it any good?
Braff clearly knows how to tell a story. He's written and directed just two feature films, Garden State and the Kickstarter-funded WISH I WAS HERE, but already you see the imprint of a would-be auteur: quirky characters, pathos rubbing shoulders with humor, and a deep and abiding love for music, which often underscores -- or should we say overemphasizes -- his films' emotional beats. Wish I Was Here is unafraid of complexity, tackling religion, identity, and the tricky balancing act of being both an adult child, bearing wounds from an unsatisfactory childhood, and also a parent buckling under weight of responsibility and overarching love for your kids.
Those are all fine subjects to tackle in a movie. But perhaps they would be better served if the film unwound its tales more sparingly, without the unnecessary conflict; extraneous, irreverent dialogue; and a pushy, if apt, soundtrack. There's one particular scene toward the end, when Gabe's health fades, that speaks to Braff's ability to get at the emotional truth between a father and a son. It stands out as being straightforward and therefore more effective than so many other sections. We wish that Wish I Was Here hewed more to that aesthetic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Aidan's relationship with his father. How does the film characterize it? How does it shape his own way of parenting?
What's Wish I Was Here's take on Aidan's and Sarah's marriage? Are they both happy? Are they intended to be role models?
Religion is a major subject in this film. How does the movie handle the topic, and how is it similar to, or different from, other films that explore spirituality?
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