In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Wish I was Here

In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Wish I was Here

This second feature from the “Scrubs” guy show more depth than his first attempt, “Garden State,” which is an improvement — but there is room for more. Zach Braff, who wrote this script with his brother Adam, also directs and stars in this as Aidan Bloom, an out-of-work actor married with two children. His wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), works at a menial city job so Aidan can continue to pursue his dream of acting, but his last job was a dandruff commercial months ago, and the future is not looking good.

Aidan’s dad, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), supports the kids’ education at a private Hebrew school, but that largesse ends when he tells Aidan his cancer has recurred and he needs his savings for treatment rather than tuition. Meanwhile Aidan’s younger brother Noah (Josh Gad), an introverted geek, lives in a Malibu trailer park.

There is a lot going on in Braff’s movie. It was pretty well received when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. This is also the movie that has the distinction of the being the one Kickstarter made. Studios balked at Braff’s vision, with all refusing to fund it unless he made changes. Braff bucked the system at went to his fans on the website and ultimately solicited more than enough funding to make the movie his way.

It would be interested to know what changes were suggested to him because I think some of them might have been helpful. Far too often in this, you can sense Braff trying too hard to make a point. And far too often, I’m not sure he knows what point he’s trying to make.

There are stereotypical characters wrapped in new guises, but stereotypical just the same—precocious kids, emotionally detached relatives — it gets messy, which is kind of how life is, so I’ll give him credit for that. But Braff is probably the worst thing about the actual movie, and he’s hampered by the fact that Aidan comes off as a self-centered jerk a lot of the time. I had to grit my teeth through many of his scenes.

If only he had cast another actor. Bar none, the best scene in this movie takes place between Patinkin and Hudson when Sarah confronts Gabe on his deathbed about his relationship with his sons. It’s an emotional grabber and so beautifully underplayed by both actors, proving that Braff can direct — just not himself.

There are some odd choices like the daydream sequences with Braff in a space suit shadowed by a little flying robot. This is supposed to reference his childhood, but it comes off clumsy and gratuitous. Likewise is the overuse of the slo-mo montages of Aidan doing fatherly things with his kids. These take place when he decides to home school them, which leads to all things not academic, including more cutesy life experiences.

These moments, some of them filmed nicely, are accompanied by syrupy pop tunes that seem to pop up whenever necessary to take the place of actual dialog. Another holdover from “Garden State.”

This is not a bad movie, but it might have benefited from a little more restraint from its director. Sometimes the close proximity causes creative blindness. I will certainly give him this: Anytime a director can work in the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost as well as Braff has done here, I will tread softly.

James Garner, 1928-2014

James Garner was a classy guy — and a great actor. He could play any part, from good guys to bad guys, and he did it all with such charm. I never watched “Maverick,” and “The Rockford Files” was never my thing unless there was nothing else on the tube on a Friday night, so my best Garner moments are in the movies: the exasperated husband to Doris Day in “Lover Come Back,” and the macho King Marchand romancing Julie Andrews (in drag) in “Victor Victoria.” “The Great Escape” was a good one for him, too, in his lengthy career that spanned television and movies. But my favorite is “Grand Prix” with Garner as the only American driver in the film. In the final scene his character, Pete Arons, walks on to the empty racetrack, replaying the race he has just won. As he lights a cigarette, he imagines the roar of the engines and the crowd in the stands. He takes a wistful look around and then begins to walk with a purposeful stride down the center stripe as that great Maurice Jarre theme rises to a full crescendo. Now that’s the way to fade to black.