Making the Grades
Aldan Bloom (Zach Braff) has an unusual way of putting money aside for a rainy day. In the family kitchen of their home sits a huge glass jar with currency stuffed inside. Labeled “Swear Jar” we soon discover the father of this home is a regular contributor. And we’re not talking “polite” swears. His favorite word is the mother of all four-letter expletives in the Western world and he sprinkles it on everything he describes.
Perhaps Aldan’s best excuse for his lewd language is his utter frustration with virtually every aspect of his life. His breakthrough acting job hasn’t transpired. Meanwhile their home in the suburbs of Los Angeles is reflecting the financial strains within the family. His supportive wife Sarah (Kate Hudson), a cubicle worker at a utility company, provides their only consistent source of income. Sadly the salary is not enough to keep their two children Grace and Tucker (Joey King and Pierce Gagnon) in a private Hebrew school. In the past their tuition had been covered by Aldan’s father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin). However he announces he can no longer donate the money because he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
It all makes for a heavy load on Aldan. His only other sibling, Noah (Josh Gad), is a “man child” living a somewhat estranged existence in a rundown house trailer. He spends his days blogging about Comic Con and other fantasy topics. Needless to say he isn’t willing to help and only agrees to babysit his niece and nephew for three hours when promised a Star Wars artifact in return.
Yes, this is another dysfunctional family drama, that could also be described as a “desperate family” drama. After the setup is explained we begin to learn the details of why Noah and Gabe don’t speak, why Aldan dutifully cares for his father even though there is little love behind his actions, and how Sarah feels about supporting her husband’s “dream” even though she is putting up with sexual harassment at her workplace. Meanwhile Grace, a smart young girl who desires to put her Jewish faith into action, gets little support from home.
Although the resolutions that begin to develop are somewhat predictable, they do offernuggets of positive character development. Grandpa Gabe is also serious about his religion and his impending death challenges him to test his beliefs. Sarah discovers that she can make a valuable contribution by extending friendship and encouragement to Uncle Noah. And as a couple, Aldan and Sarah weather the impeding storm by pulling closer together.
Yet for all the warmth this movie contains there are more reasons than the over two-dozen sexual expletives (along with other profanities and crude sexual terms) to reconsider this title. An implied sexual interlude between a husband and wife may be viewed as tastefully presented and indicative of their growing relationship, but the earlier scene showing this man’s penchant for pleasuring himself with pornography (we see his naked posterior while standing in front of the computer) isn’t nearly as excusable. Noah is depicted having sex too—with a woman he has just met (they are both fully clothed). As well, there’s a punch to the face, brief marijuana use, some drinking and smoking (although the latter is presented in a negative context).
High on the list of films identified as, “This could have been a fine movie if only they’d left all that sex and profanity”, Wish I Was Here provides solid performances and a script just as full of insightful lines as it is four-letter words. Adults willing to tolerate the content may be rewarded with the benefits, but I suspect families in general will wish they weren’t here.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Wish I Was Here.
Aldan is determined to find work as an actor, yet his father thinks he is making the wrong choice. Aldan challenges Gabe by asking why God wouldn’t want him to pursue his dream. Gabe replies that, “pursuing your dream is the promise of Thomas Jefferson in the United States Bill of Rights, God wants you to support his family.” What do you think of Gabe’s opinion? How can we tell when it’s time to leave goals behind and become financially responsible? Is it possible to do both?
Sarah works hard to feed and house their family while supporting her husband’s desire to be an actor. Gabe accuses Sarah of facilitating what he sees as his son’s irresponsible behavior. How can we tell when we are facilitating bad habits? Why is it so difficult to determine when this is the case?
Gabe is always yearning for Noah’s attention even though Aldan is the son who has provided the most love and attention. A parable in the Bible, known as The Prodigal Son, tells a similar story. Which son do you feel more sympathy toward? Do you know families with these two types of sons or daughters?
Grace questions her father as to whether all Jews hate Arabs, and if all Arabs want to kill Jews. Her father explains the concept of extremism to her. In reality, what kinds of “gross generalizations” are often popularly accepted? How are these notions perpetrated through media and the Internet? Do people with moderate opinions receive the same “airtime” as those with more extreme positions?