Zach Braff, why?

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A curiosity, this one. US Jewish heartthrob Zach Braff writes, directs, and stars in, a movie – Wish I Was Here – about the search for purpose, while being Jewish (the character, not Braff himself, although he is). Note that being Jewish doesn’t contribute to the search for purpose, it just provides a backdrop. Or possible contributing negative factor – a reason why this 30-something man has failed to find purpose.

Aidan Bloom is married to Sarah (played by Kate Hudson) and they have 2 kids. His very Orthodox dad pays for a private yeshiva schooling for the mini Blooms, as Aidan earns very little as a struggling actor. When the father announces he is dying, the kids are pulled out of yeshiva as there is no longer money to pay for it.

Add in a floating, rebellious younger brother who has rejected the orthodox Judaism, and the father, as much as Aidan – but he attracts strangely attractive women – and this family gets messier.

There are reasons to see the film. Starting with the performance by 15 year-old actress Joey King, as Grace. What an incredibly mesmerising and mature actress; how does she even remember all her lines (she is on screen constantly), never mind deliver such humanity. And, for Jewish viewers, there are any moments of recognition, comic and tragic, that revolve around familiar themes of guilt, duty, and family.

But, ultimately, one is left asking why Zach Braff wanted to make Wish I Was Here, in the first place. To have a bit of fun with his childhood issues? To explore a framework – Judaism – that did or did not influence his growing up? (not clear how Orthodox his own family are). To tackle big issues of faith? Each of these motives could have delivered a strong film if they were wrung hard enough. But as they are not, the viewer is left with a mildly entertaining and thought-provoking musing that is a curiosity, at best, and a waste of time, at worst.

Wish I Was Here is released in the UK, on 19 September.

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