Ten years ago, I was living in London when Garden State came out and I loved everything about it, especially the soundtrack. So I’ll admit that I was slightly cautious about watching Braff’s latest film, Wish I was Here, as I was scared I had grown up more than he had. But this past weekend, JB and I watched it. Boy I was not expecting to be bowled over with so much emotion! The beginning of the movie felt slightly indulgent - too focused on Braff. However there was a killer soundtrack and lots of beautiful, atmospheric shots, which is no surprise given this is Braff who pays attention to that sort of stuff. But as the story played out it broached some pretty existentialist subjects that got me thinking.
Family played a central theme in the movie. Without giving too much away, Mandy Patinkin plays the father of Aidan Bloom (Braff) and his younger brother Noah. His wife has been dead for some years and we are provided with enough information about her to conclude that she was a happy, loving character who brought out the best in the grumpy patriarch. He is very critical of his sons, constantly reminding them of all the ways in which they did not live up to his expectations. So it is perhaps of no surprise to learn that the father and his younger son have been estranged for a while. When something really big happens, everyone is forced to deal with the dysfunctional family situation head on. There’s a really touching scene between Mandy Patinkin and Kate Hudson (who plays Braff’s wife) that just resonated so strongly with me (maybe a bucketload of tears were shed, I can neither confirm nor deny this).
Some of my friends have had to move far away from their parents, for professional reasons or for studies, and I can only imagine how difficult this must be for them. Others have lost their parents to illness, or had to deal with illness in the family: it’s absolutely heartbreaking to witness that. Then there are the friends who have needed to put some distance between themselves and their parents, and say they have a much better relationship because of the space. What made me feel so sad whilst watching the film was the realisation that the estrangement within my own family may never be resolved. I grew up with no father and witnessed family tensions between my mother and her siblings - it’s now been 6 years since I last saw my mum. It’s not only my story to tell, so there is a limit as to what I can share with you here, but these past few years have been spent looking for a solution to establish a healthier relationship than our previous one – but this isn't just down to me. I've had to come to peace with the fact that my mum may not want to be involved in her grandchildren's lives. I've never been able to tell her that I worry about what will happen to her when she is older and ailing, with neither of her daughters around to actively support her and to love her. This might sound rather morbid, but I understand there are reasons behind why neither of my parents could turn up for me and it's my journey to come to terms with that.
“Your friends are the family you choose” I think for a long time I misunderstood this phrase, thinking that it meant my friends were there to fill in the big black hole left by my parents. My friendships are incredibly important to me and I always feel good after spending time with my friends. I aim to cultivate friendships where both parties know support is there whenever needed, no questions asked. I now know however that friends do not replace absent parents: that is to say, there’s things I believe only our parents and extended family can offer us that, for me, differ to what we get from our friendships no matter how deep the connection is.
I think my personal family experience has shown me that when I have my own family one day, I will always choose to turn up and be there in whatever way JB or my children need me. Whether it's to celebrate a happy event or to help solve a crisis, I will be sure to never shirk my responsibility. And to really try in the meantime, as the film title reminds us, to be here or there or wherever my present is happening : )
Have a great weekend,