Zach Braff’s new movie, Wish I Was Here, ends with the milquetoast, whiny protagonist (played by Braff, because who else could play this role?) proclaiming that it’s OK to abandon your dreams and just be a normal person. That might be the most controversial part of the most annoying movie of the summer. Whereas Braff’s last film, the equally irritating navel-gaze-athon, Garden State, famously encouraged its audience to “Let Go” as the credits rolled, this new weenie roast of a movie implores you to give up. Of course, there’s one guy out there who stubbornly continues to push his monotonous artistic agenda on a culture that has long since moved on: Zach Braff. Kickstarter and online donations will allow Zach Braff to keep making movies, even if most of us don’t want him to.
Photos via Merie Weismiller Wallace, SMPSP / Focus Features
Wish I Was Here became infamous last year for being partially funded through 46,520 donations to his Kickstarter page that promised Braff-aholics across the country that they would get the unvarnished vision of their hero. At last, the Hollywood fat cats will get out of Zach Braff’s way to make the movie he wants! We’ve waited too long to get the Real McCoy!
The problem with that is those Hollywood fat cats get paid millions of dollars to make the movies lots of people want to see. This is why no one will give me $2 million to make a sci-fi romantic comedy set in the 25th century that features me falling in love with a talking salmon. OK, actually, it’s very possible that this movie could get made if certain directives were put in place:
- My character is to be played by Robert Downey Jr. or hot up-and-coming African American actor Michael B. Jordan.
- The talking salmon will be voiced by Cameron Diaz or Melissa McCarthy.
- Instead of being set in the distant future, all the action takes place in a hot-shot San Francisco tech start-up.
- James Cameron or Christopher Nolan has to direct.
What do all of these elements have in common? They are people, places, or things the general public has already made clear that they enjoy. It’s been a long time since Zach Braff did anything that the general public enjoyed. Did you see The Ex? Were you enthralled by The Last Kiss? Did you obsessively blog about the last few tedious seasons of Scrubs? Do you sometimes punch yourself in the face just to feel something real? Of course no one who gave a shit about the bottom line would give Zach Braff more than a pat on the back to make a passion project. Braff was hot shit on a gold-plated serving dish after Garden State, but I am here to offer a rather startling, potentially earth-shattering revelation: It is not 2004.
A bevy of online commentators has made much of the 2000s Bush era as some kind of safe haven for macho white men to swing their dicks around with impunity. Trucker hats! Cheap domestic beer! Two foreign wars fought under false pretenses! Pro wrestling! Dick Cheney! Reality TV! Tucker Max! And yet, in 2004, a modest, cloying film about love conquering all influenced a sizeable portion of the country that was still coming of age. It shamelessly aped sad bastard classics like The Graduate, Harold & Maude, and Annie Hall like the principal’s kid in your history class who brazenly cheats on every exam because he can get away with it.
For you youngsters, Garden State was kind of like The Fault in Our Stars, but with way fewer Anne Frank references. It was the perfect young adult romance for the time in which it came out. If you were in college back then, like I was, it was an ideal outlet for the kind of introspection and malaise that most of us go through when your parents are no longer around to fold your laundry and prevent you from binge-drinking yourself into depression. Also, you're welcome to infer any post-9/11 trauma connections you want. That's probably there too. It sure was a bummer back then, eh!
Sometimes, all it takes is kissing a cute girl, going on whimsical adventures, walking in slow-motion, and listening to meaningful music to help you deal with a dead parent. Or, at least that’s true in the world of Garden State. I didn’t just eat that stuff up, I unhinged my jaw and let Zach Braff feed it to me like a little baby bird, then begged for seconds when it was all over. Dude, I was sad.
In the ten years since Braff first unleashed a hoard of horny, chronically mopey Shins fans upon an unsuspecting nation, he apparently has not changed much. Yes, Wish I Was Here features the same musical equivalent of tepid green tea as its soundtrack, though I doubt this one is winning a Grammy. Yes, the movie also has a lot of slow-motion shots. Yes, there are sunsets. There are many sunsets. The dad’s a dick. Zach Braff’s character is yet again a failed actor from Los Angeles, but this time, ol’ Zachie’s an aimless married father instead of an aimless single 20-something. A parent’s death is a key plot point, and through the magical power of self-actualization and positive thinking, all problems can be solved. This isn't like the Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment to Garden State's Police Academy, but it’s pretty close.
As Wish I Was Here spilled out onto my eyeballs, I pondered why a movie that was so clearly just more of the fucking same would get made. Well, 46,520 of you demanded it. The 46,520 of you that demanded Zach Braff remake Garden State for adults instead of college students got your wish. I guess that would be just fine and dandy if in the last ten years, the critical and public perception of Garden State hadn’t suffered so much. Just like in his new work, Garden State has on-the-nose, obnoxious greeting card dialogue, a simplistic view of how the world works, and characters so thin that Kate Moss is currently asking Andrew Largeman for diet tips.
As with the Veronica Mars movie, nostalgia—the current drug of choice in America—convinced a very, very small subsection of the country to fund a movie that had very little chance of being financially successful, just because it reminded them of something they used to really like. Perhaps this is the future of Zach Braff’s career. No one will see his films, but he’ll have enough artistic patrons to allow him to continue working as a director. Fellow former hot-shot wunderkinds Henry Jaglom and Eric Schaeffer (he of the abominable 1990s Sarah Jessica Parker suicide-themed indie rom-com If Lucy Fell) have refused to stop making the same movie over and over again, for an increasingly miniature audience. Maybe that’s what he wants, because even if his protagonist in Wish I Was Here is willing to quit on his career aspirations, Zach Braff doesn’t seem willing to afford himself the same opportunity. Because why the fuck should he?
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