Personal experience inspires Zach Braff’s sophomore film 

click to enlarge Zach Braff co-wrote, directed and stars in “Wish I Was Here,” his second feature film. - COURTESY MERIE WEISMILLER WALLACE, SMPSP / FOCUS FEATURES
  • COURTESY MERIE WEISMILLER WALLACE, SMPSP / FOCUS FEATURES
  • Zach Braff co-wrote, directed and stars in “Wish I Was Here,” his second feature film.
A little movie that could, Zach Braff’s low-budget “Garden State” charmed dysfunctional hearts in 2004, achieving box-office glory and cult popularity with its story about young people quirkily stalled on the road to maturity.

A decade later, Braff further explores the challenges of growing up – this time, focusing on a 30-something father – in his sophomore feature as a filmmaker, “Wish I Was Here,” which opens Friday. And again, the writer, director and star has kept the production personal and the spirit indie.

“I tried to make it raw and real,” says Braff, whose credits include a big-screen acting debut in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery” and a starring role and a few directorial outings on the TV medical comedy “Scrubs.”

Braff cites Allen, Spike Jonze and Hal Ashby as directors he admires and says that subjects of particular interest to him include the contemporary family and how parents juggle career fulfillment with the complexities of raising kids.

“The film was inspired by our family,” says Braff, who wrote the screenplay with brother Adam Braff, a “cool, nontraditional father.”

Braff plays Aidan Bloom, a perpetually aspiring actor who auditions for bit parts in grade-D sci-fi flicks while his wife, Sarah (Kate Hudson), supports his dream by working in a public-agency cubicle. The couple’s two children have been attending a private Jewish school, but Aidan’s ailing father, Gabe (Mandy Patinkin), can no longer foot the bill for it.

An awakening begins when Aidan decides to home-school the kids. Though he’s lousy at it, the responsibility prompts him to connect with his family and examine the path he’s paving for himself.

“It’s about being a modern parent in 2014,” says Braff, adding that he and his brother folded personal and friends’ experiences into their seriocomedy.

The increasing popularity of home-schooling was a primary inspiration for the screenplay, Braff says. His brother’s yeshiva schooling also figured in. Aidan’s boyhood spaceman fantasies, seen in flashbacks that serve as an escape for Aidan, reflect Braff’s own childhood imaginings.

Braff also kept things personal with the moviemaking process. To keep creative control, he took the independent route. A Kickstarter campaign raised funds. The cast, which also includes Josh Gad as Aidan’s comic-book-obsessed brother, contains actors he wanted. He shot the movie on location in Los Angeles.

The film’s title refers to Aidan’s need to “be in the present with his family,” he says.

As for what Zach Braff needs to be doing, “This is it,” he says – making movies his own way.

IF YOU GO

Wish I Were Here

Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin, Josh Gad

Written by Zach Braff, Adam Braff

Directed by Zach Braff

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 46 minutes

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Anita Katz

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