I am not quite sure why this movie by Zach Braff has engendered so much negativity--and on two fronts: how he raised the money for it (a little over 2 million on Kickstarter) and the movie itself. I believe that some of the negatives about the movie were affected by people angered a bit about a Hollywood guy worth 20 million bucks raising 2 mil from working stiffs to fund his project. This is not an unfair criticism, but let's leave that issue behind and look at this work.
Garden State, his previous movie (with the stupendous soundtrack), has a major theme that is repeated here: the relationship between a son and his father (or non-relationship to be more accurate). The fathers are similar in both movies (Ian Holm plays Mr. Largeman in Garden State while Mandy Patinkin plays the father here, Gabe Bloom) in that they are of a certain type of a Jewish father--extremely judgmental towards their sons and always disappointed in their approach to life. Braff's relationship with his parents has obviously not left him and he seems to be trying to work out his issues through cinema. Not the first guy to do this, to be sure. The other similarity between this and his first movie is dealing with dying or dead parents; yes, related to the first, but coming with a new set of problems and issues.
However, Braff's characters in the two movies are different: in the first, he comes home to NJ for mom's funeral and must face his stern father again. But, he is a success out in Hollywood and people know who he is. In this movie, he is a struggling 35 year old actor wannabee who shuns responsibility for his family and puts up with his father's kvetching just so he can continue to go on auditions, yet keep his two kids in private school (his dad pays for yeshiva). **SPOILER ALERT FOR NEXT SENTENCE** Although his father, his wife, his brother and his rabbi ALL tell him to get a job and stop being so selfish, his selfishness prevails...not an appealing character.
Another thing struck me as I watched this movie after the coming attractions of two movies: "I Origins" and Woody Allen's "Magic in the Moonlight." All three movies have as a theme the existence of God (while Allen's movies have frequently dealt with this issue, his latest appears to be the most explicit about this). Is Hollywood going through an existential crisis? The issue is not about religion per se, but God. Wonder if more like this are in the hopper? Interesting phenomenon.
One can also see similarities with the self-involved characters that Woody Allen used to portray in his earlier movies, and with the recurrent Ben Stiller characterizations: the ineffectual, comic, Jewish guy who fails in important ways. The essence of this character was Stiller's portrayal of Roger Greenberg in the excellent movie "Greenberg." Braff could play any of those roles.
Another thought: did Braff pick the name "Bloom" as a nod to Joyce's Leopold Bloom? The uninvolved passenger in life (and also--half, at least--Jewish]?
At any rate, the movie provides some real laughs and many smiles; it can also bring a bit of dewy-eyedness at times. Kate Hudson is terrific, the kids are awesome and Mandy Patinkin gives a wonderful performance. It is a small movie, but enjoyable; and the soundtrack is good, but not as good as Garden State's--but that would have been very hard to duplicate (there is one song by the Shins in this movie).
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