The Rotten Tomatoes score for Zach Braff’s newest film is a cold critical 40 up against a reasonably warm 76 for the audience. I mention this because I probably can’t be trusted with regard to this film.
Braff plays Adam, a down-on-his-luck actor who’s supported by his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) while his dad (Mandy Patinkin) pays for his two kids (Joey King of Crazy Stupid Love, and Pierce Gagnon of Looper) to go to an ultra-orthodox Jewish school. So orthodox that when we first meet Grace (King), she’s explaining to her father how she plans to shave her head so that only her husband finds her attractive.
It wouldn’t work, he explains, because she’s so beautiful, she’d even be beautiful bald. Grace doesn’t show it, but she turns away from her dad to smile.
By contrast, Adam and his father have a much more antagonistic relationship. Gabe (Patinkin) views Adam as a serious disappointment, having married a half-Jewess who he then has support him while he does the (very occasional) commercial. His father speaks of fondness about his brother, Noah, a genius (we’re told) who’s also a serious loser and perhaps an even bigger disappointment than Adam, who maybe never had that much potential to squander. Noah doesn’t even speak to Gabe any more.
Gabe, however, is dying. This leaves Adam has to wrestle with his life, his marriage, his kids education, his brother and his relationship with God and his fellow Jews all at once.
Well, look: Dialogues between a dying father and his son about life’s challenges and disappointments, along with an absentee sibling? A little too close to home for me to be “objective” about. It felt real, and familiar, to me, and I liked the respectful way it contrasted the challenges facing the incoming middle-agers with those of their parents. Some of them are the same: Balancing work, love and child-rearing.
But then there’s that embrace of childish things, which older generations eschewed as part of growing up, and younger ones cling to longer and longer while not growing up. It helps that Adam is likable, concerned and well-meaning, as well as willing to change. He’s indicted by his lack of awareness of his wife’s situation, and to a degree even his kid’s situations, despite being more genial toward them.
I think there’s a message there: Liking your kids and showing them affection is not the same as raising your kids.
And God’s there, too, which may have been off-putting to the critics. God takes Adam’s own form (and Adam was made in God’s image, right?) but an idealized form, that of a superhero image of himself he had as a child. There’s a suggestion that getting right with God—even before tackling the whole religion thing—is important.
I liked it quite a bit. It’s about small things, really. Little choices. Growing up without growing old.
The kids were not as taken with it as I was, though they both liked it as well. I was not surprised that they weren’t as moved as I was. But it’s one reason that when I write these things, I tell you my mood: It matters a whole lot. A movie that seems mildly interesting at one point in your life can feel suddenly profound at another.