Zach Braff talks about his new film, childhood and heroism

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“When I was a kid, my brother and I used to pretend we were heroes”. The opening line of Zach Braff’s new tragic comedy already sets a melancholic tone. “Wish I Was Here” is a tale of that impossible dream you always had and never pursued. It’s a tale of that dream you pursued but never achieved. It awakens an introspective reminiscence of never becoming what you dreamed you would grow to be and how the pain of it punishes you and the ones you love.

Directed by Braff using a script co-written by his brother Adam J. Braff, “Wish I Was Here” throws the viewers into the life of a hopeful yet tormented family. Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a 35-year-old struggling actor standing at a crossroad in his life. His father, Saul (Mandy Patinkin), can no longer afford tuition for his three children’s school, as he needs to pay for his cancer treatment. His wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson) is the only one economically supporting the family, but she is trapped in a job she has no passion for and in an abusive environment.

Aidan must make the decision to either abandon his dreams or his family. In a defining scene, the director of the Jewish school where the children study says, “Jefferson cares for your pursuit of happiness, but God wants you to provide for your family.”

In “Wish I Was Here,” heros take an unorthodox form. The essence of heroism blurs the lines between reality and a child’s imagination, as Aidan sometimes imagines himself as the hero he dreamed of being in his youth. The movie tells us that there are many kinds of heros and that there is nothing wrong with sometimes being one of the many who need saving.

The Daily Californian sat down with Braff to further discuss the meaning of his film and what constitutes a real hero. For Braff, he said, “the concept of the whole movie is the struggle to be present in your life. How I wish I could be in the present, and not living in the past. The whole film is about the search of spirituality. The quest to be present in your own life, showing up. Not off in his own narcissistic bubble.”

Braff addressed the transitions between reality and imagination as “challenging the conventional ways of doing films. There are no rules.”

“A movie can be funny and heartbreaking,” Braff said. “I wanted to introduce the surreal into realistic settings. Fantasies in a Greek choir, and what would a childhood fantasy look like, if it were to be manifested in an adult mind. A guardian angel trying to push (Aidan) in the right direction.”

The movie escapes usual film concepts. It is even unorthodox in the way it received its funding: Kickstarter. Braff established a goal of $2 million to be raised during the course of a month. In 48 hours, that goal had been met. By the end of the month, the idea of this movie had raised over $3.1 million, funded by 46,520 people. Braff said his intention with this movie was to “deliver the promises” he made.

Braff has put a piece of his soul and his childhood into the movie.

“When I was a kid I used to ride my bike pretending I was the best cop in town,” he said. “I even had one of those bike sirens. I had this fantasy of being one of these great people, that I was going to be one of those heros and save the day. And then life settles in — real life. I wanted to analyze what it means to be a hero for your family in 2014.”

Childhood and doctrine intertwine as dogma and religion become a necessary element of the story. Judaism, spirituality and ideology are a central part of the movie.

“Judaism is a channel in which you can insert any dogma and relate to it,” Braff explained.

It is not about the religion itself, but about the identification of a dogma. He searches for the viewers to recognize themselves in what they see and feel, and become directly invested in the spiritual part of the movie.

“Good art is that in which I can find myself in it,” he said.

“Wish I Was Here” is a story of “new beginnings and chapter changes.” A story of “proving love”. A story that tells the audience, it is OK not to be the hero who saves the world, as long as you are the hero that saves the ones you love. There is no need to slay the Chimera. You can be a hero by being present. By being here.

“Wish I Was Here” opens this Friday at Century Centre 9 in San Francisco.

Contact David Socol at [email protected].