Wish I Was Here
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Zach Braff Stars In Delightful, Dysfunctional Family Dramedy
As an actor, Zach Braff is most closely associated with the character J.D. from Scrubs, the Emmy-winning sitcom which enjoyed a nine-year run on network television from 2001 to 2010. As a director, he’s best known for Garden State, the quirky, semi-autobiographical feature film where he played a struggling actor who returns to his hometown in Jersey for his mother’s funeral.
Wish I Was Here is more akin to the latter, being another delightful, dysfunctional family dramedy which Zach directed and stars in. He also co-wrote it with his brother, Adam, and the offbeat adventure milks much of its mirth from Jewish culture in a manner often evocative of Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man (2009).
The point of departure is suburban L.A. which is where we find 35-year-old Aidan Bloom (Braff) in the midst of a midlife crisis. The fledgling actor is on anti-depressants and in deep denial about his dwindling career prospects, despite the fact that he last worked ages ago in a dandruff commercial.
What makes the situation problematical is that he futilely fritters away his time auditioning, oblivious to his breadwinner wife’s (Kate Hudson) resentment. She hates being stuck like a rat on a treadmill in a stultifying government job where she’s being sexually harassed on a daily basis by the pervy creep (Michael Weston) who shares her cubicle.
But she can’t quit her job because their kids, Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), won’t have food on the table or a roof over their heads. As it is, they’ve already sacrificed some luxuries, like the built-in pool that sits empty in the backyard.
Something’s gotta give when grandpa Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) suddenly announces that his cancer has returned, so he can no longer afford to subsidize his grandchildren’s expensive private education. Not wanting to subject them to the substandard, local public schools, Aidan grudgingly agrees to abandon his pipe dream of Hollywood stardom in order to homeschool them.
However, this affords him an unexpected opportunity to not only share some much-needed quality time with them, but to orchestrate an overdue reconciliation between his long-estranged brother (Josh Gad) and their rapidly-declining dad, as well. Soon, adolescent Grace develops the confidence to blossom from a repressed wallflower into a show off sporting a metallic purple wig, and six-year-old Tucker finds fulfillment toasting marshmallows in the desert with his more attentive father.
By film’s end, expect to be moved to tears by this poignant picture’s bittersweet resolution and sobering, universal message about the importance of family. And don’t be surprised if the weeping persists way past the closing credits.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 120 minutes
America: Imagine The World Without Her
Rated PG-13 for violent images
Revisionist Documentary Speculates About Alternative U.S. Reality
What would the U.S. look like today if the Minutemen had lost the Revolutionary War to England? That query is the launching pad of America: Imagine The World Without Her, an unapologetically right-wing documentary written, directed and narrated by Dinesh D’Souza.
D’Souza, a political pundit who immigrated here as a teenager back in the ’70s, proudly wears his patriotism on his sleeve, announcing at the outset, “I love America! I chose this country!” before launching into a full-frontal attack on such controversial left-leaning leaders and public intellectuals as Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Eric Dyson, Bill Ayers, Howard Zinn, Saul Alinsky and Hillary Clinton.
But he levels his most caustic remarks at Barack Obama whom he indicts as a liar by playing a number of incriminating comments from, “If you want to keep your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” to, “Nobody is listening to your phone calls.” D’Souza goes on to explain the President’s behavior as merely part of a strategic socialist conspiracy to destroy the capitalist system.
The movie is basically an attempt to prove that the United States is a great nation with no reason to be ashamed of its past, as suggested by its supposed detractors like Reverend Wright who is heard again in his most notorious sound bite, “No! No! No! Not God bless America… God damn America!” D’Souza brushes aside shameful chapters in our history like slavery and the slaughter of the Indians by arguing that there were just as many black slave owners as white ones, and that Native Americans had fought with each other for millennia prior to the arrival of European settlers.
His goal is to inspire the masses to rise up and save the country before it’s too late. I suspect that the picture will serve as red meat to arch-conservatives already inclined to dismiss Obama and other progressives as communists in liberals’ clothing. Unfortunately, it also won’t do much to encourage civil discourse or to bridge the intractable stalemate between Democratic and Republicans sitting on opposite sides of the aisle.
Divisive D’Souza: Imagine an America without him!
Fair (1.5 stars)
Running time: 104 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening July 18, 2014
Planes: Fire & Rescue (PG for action and peril) Animated sequel finds crop duster-turned-air racer Dusty (Dane Cook) joining forces with a team of smoke-jumping helicopters and all-terrain vehicles to fight a massive forest fire. Voice cast features Stacy Keach, Brad Garrett, Cedric The Entertainer, Ed Harris, Teri Hatcher, Regina King, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.
The Purge: Anarchy (R for profanity and graphic violence) Serendipitous horror sequel follows a quintet’s (Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez and Zoe Soul) struggle to survive on the annual national holiday during which crime is legal, even murder. Cast includes John Beasley, Michael K. Williams, Justina Machado and Jack Conley.
Sex Tape (R for nudity, profanity, graphic sexuality and drug use) Romantic comedy revolving around a jaded couple (Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel) that comes to regret recording a steamy lovemaking session when the video meant to be kept private inexplicably goes missing. With Rob Lowe, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper and Nat Faxon.
Aftermath (Unrated) Post-apocalyptic thriller, set in rural Texas, about nine strangers stuck in a farmhouse fallout shelter attempting to survive radiation sickness and a horde of starving refugees in the wake of the devastation wrought by a nuclear holocaust. Co-starring Edward Furlong, William Baldwin, Monica Keena, Andre Royo, C.J. Thomason, Luis Da Silva, Jr., Bo Mitchell, Randall Reeder and Christine Kelly.
Alive Inside (Unrated) Dementia documentary demonstrating music’s magical ability to combat memory loss while restoring a sense of self to Alzheimer’s patients.
Among Ravens (Unrated) Fact-based dramedy about a Fourth of July reunion in Idaho disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious nature photographer (Will McCormack) who proceeds to touch the lives of all the assembled guests. With Amy Smart, Christian Campbell and Calum Grant.
Double Play (Unrated) Poignant profile of visionary filmmakers Richard Linklater and James Benning’s enduring friendship.
Fanny (Unrated) Second installment in director Daniel Auteuil’s Marseille trilogy finds the title character (Victoire Belezy) seduced, impregnated and abandoned before deciding to marry a wealthy sugar daddy (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) for the sake of the baby. Cast includes Nicolas Vaude, Daniel Russo and Georges Neri. (In French with subtitles)
I Origins (R for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Sci-fi thriller about a molecular biologist (Michael Pitt) studying the evolution of the eye who makes a stunning scientific discovery with spiritual implications with the help of his lab partner (Brit Marling). With Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yeun and Archie Panjabi.
Mood Indigo (Unrated) Romantic fantasy, written and directed by Michael Gondry, about a wealthy bachelor (Romain Duris) who marries a young woman (Audrey Tautou) after a whirlwind romance only to learn that she’s suffering from a rare illness caused by a flower that’s growing in one of her lungs. Featuring Omar Sy, Gad Elmaleh, Charlotte Le Bon and Aissa Maiga. (In French and English with subtitles)
Persecuted (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Fugitive road thriller about a popular televangelist (James Remar) who ends up on the run after being framed for murder by a vindictive politician (Bruce Davison) with religious reform at the top of his agenda. With Dean Stockwell, former Senator Fred Thompson and Fox TV’s Gretchen Carlson.
Video Games: The Movie (Unrated) Joystick documentary chronicling the history of seminal computer games from creation to consumption.