Aidan has a dream. He wants to be an actor. It's the only thing he's ever truly wanted to do. The only work that makes him really happy. And that's important isn't it? Being happy?
Quite frankly, though, neither the dream nor the happiness thing is going so well at this point.
He hasn't been able to land a gig since that dandruff commercial a while back. The money from that disappeared long ago. The dandruff he's still got.
Of course, the lack of work means his wife, Sarah, is pretty much supporting the family. And Aidan can see the pressure getting to her. On top of that, he just found out his father has cancer, an aggressive form in need of special (read: expensive) care. And that, of course, means Dad won't be able to keep paying Grace's and Tucker's tuition at their private Jewish school.
When it rains …
Aidan even went right to the rabbi and asked for a little guidance. Maybe a dash of charity? But no going. The best he got was a strong suggestion that he go out and get a "real" job.
"Doesn't God care about my happiness?" Aidan asks with all the sincerity of 14-year-old trying to convince her dad she needs more money for makeup.
"No," the rabbi retorts flatly. "That's the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson cared about your happiness. … God wants you to care for your family."
The only thing Aidan can think of doing is to take charge of homeschooling the kids through the end of the semester. Maybe by then they can work out a transition to another school. Maybe his dad will get better. Maybe his wife will be promoted at the water company. Maybe he can finally land a film role or a national commercial. Maybe he'll win the lottery.
Maybe some unexpected thing will happen and make them all happy again. You know, like it's supposed to.
Events do unfold that help each family member grab ahold of a little more happiness. That doesn't mean, however, that the movie's main message is about happiness being our final goal. And it doesn't even come to Aidan by way of pleasant happenings. After all, sometimes it's the most difficult moments—such as the passing of Aidan's father—that lead to the most personal growth and steps taken in positive directions. Before he dies, Aidan's dad, Gabe, finds a sense of closure with both his sons, for instance, expressing his love and pride in both men in ways that were almost impossible for him earlier in his life. They, in turn, find a great deal of healing in that relationship—and encouragement to change some of the more questionable choices in their lives.
Aidan finds a renewed connection with the rest of his family as well. For the first time in a long while, he and Sarah begin to talk about their sometimes distant relationship, and he and his kids form closer bonds as they spend more of their days together. Grace seems to understand the strength of that important bond pretty well: As loved ones are gathering to be with Gabe in his last moments, she calls her reluctant uncle Noah to say, "I know you don't believe in God, but maybe you can believe in family."
So in the end it may not be the issue of happiness (lost or found or pursued) that truly dominates this story. It's more the question of what constitutes a heroic and selfless act. And should the headlines always just be about the knight in shining armor? Aidan talks of both he and his brother pretending to be brave "heroes with swords" as kids. But he goes on to wonder if "maybe we're just regular people. The ones who get saved."
That viewpoint carries over into the vaguely addressed spiritual concept of salvation. Early on in his family's struggles, Aidan wonders, "Do you think God is trying to guide me?" And the movie seems to want us to understand that God's hand is indeed in play.
When Gabe first announces his illness, Aidan asks his father what they should do. "We move forward," Gabe declares. "That's the only direction God gave us." Rabbi Twersky mirrors that opinion in his conversation with Aidan. As does Grace in her own way. She talks of her faith being tested by God, but also of praying regularly for her grandfather. She gives the weakening old man a pair of welder's googles so that his eyes won't be hurt when he faces God's blinding white light.
Aidan and Sarah are less secure in that area of their lives. "I always thought that by the time I got older, I'd have a handle on what I believe," Sarah reports sadly. And Aidan expresses to Grace his own envy of those, like her, who are confident in their beliefs. "The rest of us," Aidan says, "until we find something we believe, we're kind of left with nothing."
Near the end of his life, Gabe declares that he's not afraid of his coming death. He spots Noah wearing a spacesuit and jokingly asks, "Do you all see that? Or is God very different than I imagined?"
Uncle Noah has sex with a neighbor lady, while both of them are dressed in Comic-Con costumes. The camera catches a profile image of the woman's bare legs and backside. We also spot her in a wet and nearly transparent white tank top.
Sarah and Aidan lie in bed after sex, naked but mostly covered by a sheet. Aidan, with his pants around his ankles (and his back to the camera), masturbates in front of a laptop computer. Much to Sarah's chagrin, her cubicle partner at work talks to her inappropriately about his arousal when not wearing underwear to work. He then jokes with her in the "voice" of his penis.
The man has pinups of bikini girls on his side of the cubicle area. Sarah and several other women wear tops that reveal cleavage, and Sarah also wears a pair of tight shorts with a midriff-baring crop top.
Aidan confronts a guy in the supermarket, demanding that he leave Sarah alone. He gets punched in the face for his effort. While riding a Segway, the aging Rabbi Twersky slams into a wall. An actor on a movie set wears a realistic-looking prosthetic headpiece that makes it look like his scalp and skull have been sheared away, revealing brain beneath.
Crude or Profane Language
Aidan regularly makes deposits in his family's "swear jar," pointing out that his proclivity for profanity is actually helping to finance his kids' college funds. It also "helps" make this movie coarser as we stumble over 25 to 30 f-words and a half-dozen s-words. There are also a handful of uses of "a--," "h---" and "d--n." Jesus' name is misused once, God's four or five times. There are repeated uses of the sexual slang "poontang," including misuses by the kids who believe it's a fun drink. Crude reference is made to male genitals. Noah makes an obscene gesture.
Nine-year-old Tucker complains that he doesn't have the same freedom to swear that his father does. So Aidan gives him one minute to cuss to his heart's content. (Tucker comes up with "hairy balls.")
Drug and Alcohol Content
While waiting to get out of a school parking lot, Aidan reaches into his car's ashtray and lights up the stub of a joint for a quick puff. Paramedics smoke cigarettes in an alley behind the hospital. Aidan's father is hooked up to an IV drip. Grace prays that Noah's antidepressants will soon "kick in."
Other Negative Elements
Verbal and visual gags are about bad breath, farts and dog urination. Aidan lies on two occasions to get free treats for his kids—once saying that Grace is terminally ill.
A few weeks before this movie arrived in theaters, Plugged In posted a poll asking readers why they went to the movies. Was it because the experience made them feel pumped up? Were they looking for a good cry? Or maybe longin' for that sweet ol' lovin' feeling?
The top two answers, by far, focused on wanting to have a good laugh and be spurred to do some deep thinking.
The giggle and guffaw part makes perfect sense, of course. After all, study after scientific study have demonstrated how beneficial laughter can be for just about everyone's emotional and physical health. And if you stop to, uh, think about it, the appeal of a thought-provoking movie makes even more sense.
There's something incredibly invigorating about a thoughtful piece of drama that draws us in and doesn't want to let go. Or, rather, we don't want to let go of the things we're thinking about and feeling, the questions we keep ruminating on, and the simple truths that resonate in us like a tuning fork struck against a knee and left to hum.
I bring all of that up because laughter and thought are pretty much the only things that are important to Wish I Was Here. It's a film that wonders about purpose, faith, fulfillment, loss and wasted time. And it laughs over the simple joys of being a parent, of being a child.
Unfortunately, it's also a film that doesn't think at all about the downside of pelting us with scores of f-words and other chum-bucket crudities. And there's nothing like unnecessary nastiness to squelch a good laugh or muddy a deep thought.
Maybe we should run a poll asking why people stay away from the movies. I have a feeling that kind of foulness would likely be very near the top of the responses.