Soundtracking: Wish I Was Here

Soundtracking is a regular column that appears on Cineplex.com looking at the music featured in the biggest new releases both in theatre and on home video. Shane McNeil looks at Zach Braff’s return to the soundtrack game with WISH I WAS HERE.

Originally published on Cineplex.com – July 14, 2014.

A decade after he broke into the movie-making and soundtrack compiling business with Garden State, Zach Braff returns to the directors’ chair with Wish I Was Here. Like his debut feature, Braff has piled his latest film high with music both original and recycled.

In just his second film, Braff once again turns to a lot of his favourite bands, coincidentally some of the most loved and influential of the decade that has passed since Garden State to provide the musical backbone of his sophomore feature.

To touch briefly on Garden State, for those who weren’t buying music in the mid-2000s, the soundtrack was a cult hit that helped launch certain acts into the popular consciousness and introduce a new generation to some forgotten deep album cuts.

Bringing fresh light on the likes of Nick Drake and Simon and Garfunkel, Braff also helped lend to the popularity of acts that are now staples in the indie realm, such as Iron and Wine (covering another in The Postal Service) and leaning heavily on the Shins’ debut album “Oh, Inverted World”. The indelible musical moment of that film featured Natalie Portman slipping headphones over Braff’s ears, and playing him this:

Fittingly enough, it was the Shins who were among the early tracks to leak from the Wish I Was Here soundtrack in the weeks leading up to the film’s release. Their new track “So Now What” gets a place of honour as Track 1 on the original soundtrack album.

The true coup in Braff’s new crop of tunes, however, dropped a week or so after the Shins’ track saw the light of day. Believe it or not, that last statement was not even in reference to the film’s eponymous Cat Power and Coldplay collaboration, though getting the former on your soundtrack is always a big deal. No, the big get for the soundtrack is a brand new tune by Bon Iver.

The Wisconsin outfit headed by Justin Vernon hit it big – at least in a populist sense – by winning a pair of Grammys in 2012 for its self-titled sophomore disc. Of course, to many this was the second act for the band, after their debut “For Emma, Forever Ago” burst on the scene in 2007 and 2008. Their contribution, the aptly-titled “Heavenly Father” (the film will explain it) breaks the relative silence the band has undertaken since releasing their second disc in 2011.

A Bon Iver back catalogue track also features, with “Holocene” making a soundtrack appearance.

But, like Garden State, Braff’s newest soundtrack benefits from some help from the past as well. The film (though not the soundtrack itself) makes loving use and reference to the likes of Bob Dylan and James Taylor.

However, the standout back-tracks on the soundtrack also provide the backbone for two of the film’s most triumphant moments.

As Noah (Josh Gad, playing Braff’s character’s brother in the film) finally gets out of his personal trailer and makes something of his life, he is welcomed into the limelight by what is possibly the greatest track of Paul Simon’s post-“Graceland” career. “The Obvious Child” was Track 1 off his “Graceland” follow-up entitled “The Rhythm of the Saints” and announced that album with authority. It also served as the inspiration for the Jenny Slate comedy of the same name from earlier this year.

But the “New Slang” moment, if you will, in Wish I Was Here belongs to another Track 1, this time from English singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy. Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy’s secret identity) has slid in and out of the spotlight since his 2000 debut “The Hour of Bewilderbeast” and is probably best known to movie-goers as the voice behind the song-score to the 2002 film About a Boy.

As Aidan (Braff’s character) has his cathartic moment of revelation and begins to turn both his situation and the film’s plot around, the desert sun comes up. With it, comes the first track off that debut album.

Wish I Was Here hits screens in limited release on Friday, July 18.