The Films of Zach Braff
Wish I Was Here (July 20/14)
Zach Braff's first film in 10 years, Wish I Was Here follows struggling actor Aidan Bloom (Braff) as he's forced to reevaluate his choices after his father (Mandy Patinkin's Gabe) falls ill - with the film detailing the impact that Aidan's midlife crisis has on the various folks in his life, including his wife (Kate Hudson's Sarah), brother (Josh Gad's Noah), and two children (Joey King's Grace and Pierce Gagnon's Tucker). There's a familiarity to the material that's especially pronounced in the movie's opening half hour, as writer/director Braff stresses Aidan's myriad of problems at home - with Braff's decision to emphasize certain less-than-engrossing elements perpetuating the movie's watchable yet far-from-stellar atmosphere (ie it's difficult, for example, to work up much interest in or enthusiasm for Grace and Tucker's continuing school-related difficulties). Wish I Was Here seems, in its early stages, to be lacking the personal touch that made Garden State so memorable and distinctive, and it's not until Braff shifts the focus to both his and Patinkin's respective characters that the movie becomes the engrossing, heartfelt drama one might've hoped for. (This is not to say that the latter half of Wish I Was Here is devoid of missteps, as Braff offers up a few underwhelming subplots that could and should have been excised (ie it's hard to see the value in most of the stuff involving Gad's prototypically off-kilter figure).) The film is ultimately at its best when devoted to the father/son relationship between Aidan and Gabe, with the poignant, emotionally-charged nature of these scenes ensuring that Wish I Was Here packs a potent punch in its final stretch - which finally does cement the movie's place as an uneven yet stirring sophomore effort for Braff.
Going in Style (April 6/17)
Based on a 1979 comedy, Going in Style follows a trio of lifelong friends (Michael Caine's Joe, Morgan Freeman's Willie, and Alan Arkin's Albert) as they lose their jobs (and pensions) and subsequently decide to stage an ambitious bank heist. It's an agreeable-enough premise that's employed to progressively tedious effect by filmmaker Zach Braff, as the director, working from Theodore Melfi's bland script, abandons the personal, heartfelt style of his first two films in favor of a palpably generic (and aggressively pandering) feel - which, not surprisingly, slowly-but-surely drains the picture of its energy and entertainment value. The movie's failure is especially disappointing given the effectiveness of the stars' work here, and yet the actors' ample charisma is eventually rendered moot in the face of a narrative that's almost entirely lacking in momentum. It doesn't help, either, that Braff has punctuated the proceedings with a handful of hopelessly (and embarrassingly) misguided interludes, with the most egregious example of this a disastrously unfunny, padded-out scene involving the protagonists' efforts at robbing a local supermarket. And while the aforementioned heist is handled relatively well (albeit in as slick, personality-free a manner as one could envision), Going in Style closes with a meandering final stretch that essentially (and effectively) cements its place as an overly-polished and somewhat redundant endeavor (ie the movie, in the end, feels like an extended version of its own trailer).