Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Friday,
May 06th
Home Leisure Arts, Culture & More Zach Braff at Sundance: ‘Wish I Was Here’

Zach Braff at Sundance: ‘Wish I Was Here’

E-mail Print PDF

Zach BraffZACH Braff is unabashedly and proudly Jewish. One might not deduce that, though, from the caustic attitude toward organized Judaism expressed at the beginning of his new film, “Wish I Was Here.”

In his second foray as director, a decade after the indie success of “Garden State,” Braff plays a chronically unemployed, 30-something Los Angeles actor with a devoted wife (Kate Hudson) and two children in Jewish religious school.

Braff’s Aidan Bloom is avowedly secular — his father (Mandy Patinkin) chose and pays for the kids’ education as a way of inculcating their Jewish identity — and he delights in cracking cynical jokes about religion while driving his offspring to school. To underscore his disrespect, Bloom sneaks a hit on a joint after the children get out the car, only to be caught in the act by a rabbi.

“I don’t think the movie’s anti-Jewish at all,” Braff avers in a recent interview in a San Francisco hotel. “My character says, ‘I’m envious of people with faith. They take comfort in their faith. I wish I had that to get me through this, but since I don’t, I’m a secular man, I need to find something that works for me.’”

“This” is Aidan’s father’s illness and encroaching mortality, which throws a financial wrench in the kids’ private education and impels Aidan to become both a good son and a good parent. The film’s title refers to that dual challenge while evoking Aidanexistential dilemma of needing something to believe in.

“Wish I Was Here” opens Friday, July 18.

“If I was going to do PR for the Jews of America,” Braff says, “I would say, ‘There needs to be a more proactive way of connecting with Jews who identify with the culture and the humor and the holidays in a way that can tap into the spirituality that they have within themselves. So any social commentary in the beginning on the yeshiva was meant to show here’s a secular guy who doesn’t know how to tap into his faith.”

“WISH I Was Here,” like Braff himself, blends unwavering self-confidence, clever one-liners and earnest philosophizing.

Many viewers will be entertained by the acerbic dialogue and moved by the sentimental family resolution, while others will find “Wish I Was Here” an indulgent tonal pastiche epitomized by a sight gag of an elderly rabbi on a Segway visiting an intensive care unit.

Braff, of course, became a household name in the 2000s for his role in the long-running sitcom “Scrubs.” Most recently, he starred in the London premiere of his original play, “All New People,” before making his Broadway debut in the musical adaptation of Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway.”

He co-wrote “Wish I Was Here” with his brother Adam. The New Jersey natives borrowed from the early experiences of a third brother, Joshua (who is also a writer), in developing Aidan’s character.

“My brother went to a very strict yeshiva as a child and really was alienated from it, and had a very bad experience,” Braff relates. “It wasn’t until shooting this movie, in the yeshiva we actually shot in, that I saw a modern Orthodox school. It was a wonderful school, and the rabbis that I talked to were really charming guys and we actually had some interesting conversations about religion, and the kids were all happy and having a wonderful time.”

Braff leans forward, warming to his point.

“So I hope that any strict religious people reading this know that the movie is not condemning Orthodoxy at all. It’s saying that, from my point of view, I wished I’d had in my life someone who could help me tap into my own spirituality better instead of saying, ‘Here are the rules. Work within these rules.’”

“Wish I Was Here” has some fun (as noted above) with an aged rabbi. But a younger rabbi — who Braff describes as “the dream rabbi I wished I met” as a young person —makes a contribution to Aidan’s journey of reconciliation with his father (an old-school guy who harangues Aidan to provide for his family and abandon his artistic ambitions).

“I took a Hinduism class in college and loved this idea that here are a bunch of allegories and wonderful stories and gods, and you can choose to find your own path,” Braff muses. “It isn’t so much like ‘These are the rules.’  It is ‘Here’s what we believe but find your own way.’ Now I don’t know much more about Hinduism than an Intro to Hinduism class, but I remember that striking me, as someone who’d been raised very strictly Jewish and kosher.”

BRAFF financed “Wish I Was Here” through a crowd-funding campaign last year, drawing flak in the process from those who thought well-off celebrities should reach into their own wallets. Without referencing the Kickstarter controversy, Braff makes the case for consumer support for his movie.

“The studio system isn’t going to make a movie about a Jewish family,” he asserts.

“A financier wasn’t going to make a movie about a Jewish family. It’s very, very hard to get — we’re two percent and shrinking — a movie about Jewish people made. If I made this in the studio system, they’d be like ‘ix-nay on the ewish-jay.’ I’d have to [dial] it down. So I hope that Jews will show up because I’d like to make more films about my Jewish experience, and it matters if they go to the theater or not.”

Wish You Were Here starts Friday, July 18, at Landmark’s Esquire Theatre Denver and Century Boulder.

 

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Would-be Florida synagogue bomber has mental problems from car wreck, says cousin

Julie Wiener (JTA) — A Florida man accused of planning to bomb a Miami-area synagogue last week has had psychiatric problems since suffering head injuries in a car accident, his family said. James Gonzalo Medina... [Link]

Labour’s Sadiq Khan, a critic of anti-Semitism in his party, elected first Muslim mayor of London

Julie Wiener (JTA) — Sadiq Khan was elected as the first-ever Muslim mayor of London, rising above his Labour Party’s anti-Semitism scandal. Khan won with 44 percent of the vote to Conservative candidate ... [Link]

Where Jewish conservatives stand on Donald Trump: A running tally

Ron Kampeas WASHINGTON (JTA) — Never Trump? Always Trump? Never-doesn’t-last-forever-Trump? And what about Hillary or Bernie? Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, presents a quandary for ... [Link]

Far-right lawmaker: Israeli ‘revenge’ against Palestinians could’ve prevented Jewish violence

Julie Wiener (JTA) — A right-wing Israeli lawmaker with a history of making controversial statements said if the Israeli government had taken revenge on Palestinians, individual acts of violence could have been ... [Link]

For Mother’s Day, fun bits of Jewish parenting wisdom

Lisa Keys Mother’s Day raises big questions: What the heck should I get my mom? Will my kids call me? What to do about my naked preschooler who’s refusing to get dressed? You’re on your own o... [Link]

Chabad rabbi building ‘1st mikvah in West Africa’ in Nigeria

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — An Israeli firm and a Chabad rabbi working in Nigeria are preparing to open the first known Jewish ritual bath, or mikvah, in West Africa. Yisroel Ozen, a prominent Chabad emissary based... [Link]

Polish town names square after Knesset deputy speaker’s family

Cnaan Liphshiz (JTA) — The deputy speaker of the Knesset, Hilik Bar, attended a ceremony in a Polish town that renamed its main square for his great-grandfather, who was murdered in the Holocaust. The renaming... [Link]

The new Han Solo is Jewish – and he was discovered at a bat mitzvah

Julie Wiener The next time you’re kvetching about having to go to another bar or bat mitzvah, think about this: Steven Spielberg could be there, and he could make you a star. That’s how it worked out for Alden... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com