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Braff Grows in‘Wish I Was Here’

Some people just want to dislike Zach Braff. The actor once known as the charmingly goofy Golden Globe nominee from Scrubs has since become that guy, who’s overly earnest and lends his voice to toilet paper commercials, who uses Kickstarter to partially fund a film and evocative indie music to do the hard work of rousing a moviegoer’s emotions. Never mind that his directorial debut, 2004’s Garden State, did well both critically and at the box office. The pitchforks are out, and they’re not easy to put away.

His latest movie, Wish I Was Here, isn’t going to quiet the haters. It has all the overly sentimental dialogue, musical crutches and pensive Braff close-ups that annoyed viewers of Garden State. And instead of pairing himself up with Natalie Portman, he’s married to a woman played by Kate Hudson.

But here’s the thing: Wish I Was Here touches on timely themes and does so with an artistic vulnerability.

Braff plays Aidan, a struggling actor who hasn’t worked since a dandruff commercial. Providing for the family largely falls to his wife, Sarah, who hates her job in part because she’s sexually harassed by her officemate. Sarah and Aidan have two kids, the devoutly Jewish pre-teen Grace (Joey King) and her hyperactive younger brother, Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), and the family seems to be just barely keeping it all together, amid failed auditions and school drop-offs. But their tenuous balance topples when Aidan’s father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), learns his cancer has metastasized.