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Zach Braff’s New Movie, ‘Wish I Was Here,’ Plays on Actor’s Jewish Upbringing

Day school parents can take heart from Mr. Scrubs. “Wish I Was Here,” Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded film, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in late January. Fans — especially the 46,520 who helped pay for it to be made — were eagerly awaiting the “Garden State” follow up. And, exactly a decade after Braff’s first movie, Sundance received it warmly. The screening ended with a standing ovation, certain critics had nice things to say, and most importantly, the movie was ultimately bought by Focus Features.

Also notable, at least in its original cut (Focus will probably edit before theatrical release), the plot sounds pretty Jew-y. In “Wish I Was Here,” Braff returns as a movie director to star as Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor living in suburban L.A. with his wife (Kate Hudson) and their two kids. Aidan is forced to pull the children from Jewish day school after his dad, played by Mandy Patinkin, announces he is suffering from cancer and will no longer be able to pay tuition. Unwilling to send them to the local public school, Aidan decides to home school his two kids, aged 5 and 12.

This new role as a teacher leads Aidan on a spiritual journey, complete with a visit to a rabbi.

Braff, who wrote the script with his brother Adam, explains that the pair drew inspiration from their childhood. “It was kind of a combination of both of our lives,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We did have a very strong conservative/Orthodox upbringing… Themes are in there around our shared experiences but it’s mostly fiction.”

As well as the Jewish celebrities Braff, Patinkin and Hudson, Lawrence Sher who shot “Garden State” and then went on to shoot the “Hangover” movies was in charge of shooting and Jewish actor Josh Gad plays Aidan’s brother in the film. Gad says he took the part because of “Garden State,” and also because he grew up “in a very Jewish household,” adding, “I know it doesn’t look that way.”

In the movie, Braff’s character finds out what it’s like to have to put away (or at least compartmentalize) childish fantasies and become an example to his kids. By using Kickstarter to generate funding Braff was able to sidestep Hollywood editorial constraints, but in a life-repeats-art moment he has also been the target of funder-fans angry that promised merchandise was late or not delivered.

The Hollywood Reporter also provides a video clip, in which the cast is asked about their Sundance fashion. The question elicits a funny little riff on “Alaskan mohel chic.” Now if only there’d been some footage of the cast’s Rosh Hashanah gathering.

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