For many of us, the question in the title « Can Wish I Was Here really be as good as Garden State? » has a simple answer: no. Probably not. It can and it will surely be pretty good. But Garden State… Come on!
Ten years have gone by since Natalie Portman made us laugh at her hamster’s funeral in the fairly melancholic, slightly dramatic, but still romantic comedy Garden State and the « issues » tackled by Braff in his first full-length film are still as present today as they were back then. This generation pictured in the movie, a generation of young adults somehow lost and overwhelmed, struggling to become proper grown-ups, struggling with the confusion of feelings, with love, with family, with the choices life demands us to make, well, this generation seems to only have grown ten years older, but still faces the same uncertainty about almost everything with almost the same passivity. That is roughly where Braff and his brother who co-wrote the screenplay seem to be taking us this time.
As Zach Braff best puts it himself in his kickstarter video (see above), this new movie represents a new chapter of life. The chapter that comes next to the desperation of the 20’s presented in Garden State. It is not a sequel in story, but a continuation of the tone. The main character, named Aidan, is in his 30’s. He’s a struggling actor, father and husband, who is still trying to find his purpose in life. His dad’s unexpected illness and the tensions in his marriage, along with other bad news put him at a major crossroads, forcing him to re-examine his whole life. Although it remains to be verified, what we know of the story seems like a very good soil for indie drama/comedy cinema as the vulnerability and the confusion that sometimes come along with being a husband, a son, a father, a professional all at once are rarely dealt with. That’s already one (pretty important) thing in favor of WIWH.
Another very good point lies in the genuine independence Braff enjoyed while creating, filming and editing. Crowdfunding via Kickstarter enabled the young director to make exactly the movie he wanted to make, without the compromises that could have been necessary to satisfy the desires of conventional producers/financers, and while reenforcing and empowering a significant fanbase more than happy to « invest » in the project. Zach Braff was the final decision-maker at every step of the way, starting with the casting, which includes Braff himself, Kate Hudson, and Braff’s close friends such as Donald Faison (Turk in Scrubs) or Jim Parsons (best known as Dr. Sheldon Cooper). Just like Jim Parsons who already had a small part in Garden State, a lot of people who contributed to it worked on WIWH too. Among them, it is particularly worthy to mention Lawrence Sher, director of cinematography on both projects.
Last but not least, possibly the best point I could make in favor of WIWH – and why I think it might very well be the « Garden State » of this decade – lies in the soundtrack. Like most indie music enthousiasts I know, I discovered the Shins through Garden State. « New Slang » and the rest of the soundtrack became incredibly popular and clearly were a major ingredient in Zach Braff’s secret recipe to set the tone for a beautiful drama/comedy. With a new amazing song by the Shins, another one by Coldplay in duo with Cat Power, another one by Mister Paul Simon and many others by folk/indie artists such as The Head and the Heart, Radical Face, Hozier and more, the soundtrack of WIWH has all the components to recreate the melancholic and authentic atmosphere that made Garden State unique. Songs like « So now what » by the Shins have this special ability to carry you away instantly. That is just what we want from this movie.
In its time, Garden State managed to be at the very same time, incredibly personal and intimate by reflecting the director’s own state of mind and yet universal for it touched everyone in a special way. This was a surprise, even to Scrubs fans who had already spotted Braff’s talent to play a funny part while dealing with dramatic topics. Back in the 2004 context, this movie also embodied a certain vision of film-making, very different from the hollywood standardized format we are, sadly enough, force-fed with. From its first minute to the last one, Garden State kept traveling from drama to comedy, then back to drama and so on, in a subtle manner, leaving us with a strange, bitter-sweet tasting grin on our face. All of a sudden, without a proper warning, Zach Braff had jumped into Wes Anderson’s category. With originality, sensitivity, artistry and a carefully chosen soundtrack, he’d brought together the pain, the joy, the sadness and the laughter one encounters in life, depicting it not as we usually want it to look, but much closer to what it really is.
Well, that being said, and after the three points I made in this post (good story, crowdfunding, good music), I can’t see why « Wish I was here » wouldn’t be just as good as Garden State, and why not, even a little better. The answer on July 18 if you leave in NYC or LA, and later for the rest of America and then the world. In France, the movie will be out on August 13.
In the meantime, the best songs of « Wish I was here » original soundtrack are already available in our Spotify playlists.