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CATHERINE KRUMMEY: Braff’s sophomore effort a mixed bag

Mandy Patinkin and Zach Braff play father and son in “Wish I Was Here.” Focus Features1 / 3
Pierce Gagnon, Kate Hudson and Zach Braff star in “Wish I Was Here.” Focus Features2 / 3
Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in 2004’s “Garden State.” Fox Searchlight3 / 3

In 2004, actor Zach Braff’s directorial debut, “Garden State,” was met with a flurry of critical acclaim.

Starring Braff as a struggling actor who returns to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral, “Garden State” is filled with both truly funny sight gags (a shirt blending in with the wallpaper being the most iconic) and touching, honest moments about growing up, suffering loss and falling in love.

Braff was great on the TV show “Scrubs,” but he gives the strongest performance of his career in “Garden State,” supported by equally terrific turns from Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman and Ian Holm.

Ten years later, Braff’s sophomore feature, “Wish I Was Here,” is not being met with the same praise.

“Wish I Was Here” meets the Bloom family at a time of crisis: Gabe, the grandfather (Mandy Patinkin), is dying of cancer; Aidan, the father (Braff), is weighing whether or not his fledgling acting career is still worth pursuing; Sarah, the mother (Kate Hudson), is trying to determine whether supporting her family is worth enduring her workplace; and Grace, the daughter (Joey King), is struggling with entering her teen years.

Where “Garden State” was original and inventive, keeping the story going at a slow but methodical pace, “Wish I Was Here” seems to just go through the motions, getting from point A to point B without a whole lot of time to revel in the small moments as its predecessor did.

My biggest issue is how everything winds up in the end — it seems like more unrealistic wish fulfillment than the old standby of life managing to sort itself out. I won’t go into specifics (I hate spoilers), but that is one of my major gripes with the story.

Despite the movie’s missteps, Hudson gives the best performance she’s given since her Golden Globe-winning turn in “Almost Famous” 14 years ago. A key scene she shares with Patinkin — who is also quite brilliant in this — is one of the most emotional moments witnessed in theaters over the last few months. And it’s not overwrought or melodramatic, it’s sincere and moving.

Contrasting with the sincerity of performances by Hudson, Patinkin and Josh Gad (as Aidan’s brother, Noah), there’s Braff. Like the movie itself, his performance seems to be just going through the motions, too, and it’s hard to feel emotionally invested in a protagonist such as this. The supporting characters seem much more realistic and fleshed out.

The bottom line: If you’re looking for a movie to stir up some emotions and you’re over 18, skip “The Fault in Our Stars” and witness Hudson break out of her romantic comedy auto pilot mode. Gad, who is also known for his more comedic roles, gives a striking dramatic turn as Noah, too, and the scenes that they each share with Patinkin are worth the price of admission.


Time: 1:46

Three stars out of five

Rated R for language and some sexual content