For context, this movie came out in 2004 when I was 20 years old. I was right in the target demographic– some indie/punk shithead know-it-all clove-smoking kid with a chip on my shoulder, glasses, and a dumb haircut. This movie should have defined my brand of bullshit. I should have loved it, but man, what the fuck!
I got into an actual, horrible fight with an ex because I thought it was pedantic and anti-feminist; he told me I was a sociopath with no feelings. LOL WHAT. The term ‘manic pixie dream girl’ had just entered the zeitgeist and fuck, was I mad about it. I’d been pedestaled before and seeing that depicted as this Wholesome Thing, the dude being Some Hero in this story, made me so fucking angry!
Much to my dismay, in the weeks following its release, dozens of my friends amended their MySpace profile music section to reflect only these four cursed words; THE GARDEN STATE SOUNDTRACK. Fuck off!!
This was my first time watching it since in the theatre in 2004. And it was.. not great. Granted it is slightly better than I remembered, but you’d better believe I was yelling at every single musical cue from that godforsaken soundtrack.
I was in the middle of typing a text to a friend when ~that~ Iron and Wine ‘Such Great Heights’ cover languidly plays and I had a sudden vivid, horrendous flashback to an ex who attempted to serenade me with that fucking song a few years after the movie came out, acoustic guitar and warbling singing outside my window and all. I wanted to POOCHIE OFF THIS FUCKING ROCK SO BAD. The good news is that my neighbours immediately screamed at him.. god bless New Jersey.
Oh hey, was anyone else personally victimised in the early/mid 00s by a dude with a foppish haircut masquerading as sensitive but was really a gigantic inconsiderate twat looking for someone to extrapolate all of his emotions onto because you’re just The Most Unique Girl he’s ever placed upon his fucking golden pedestal in the shitting stratosphere?? About how you’ve ~changed his life~ and ~things will never be the same~ because you ~have flaws~ and now he REALLY SEES THE BEAUTY IN LIFE?!?
As I reluctantly pressed play, a “Brief nudity” warning flashed across the screen. Had I misremembered something rad? Do people FUCK in Garden State?? Is there a tit in this movie– a tit with ~emotions~ besides Zach Braff? Perhaps a coy butt?
Nope, but METHOD MAN hosts some kind of bizarre underground porno theatre which is arguably the raddest thing in this flick besides the NJ dive bar that I have vivid memories of being an underage drunk idiot in, but woefully cannot recall where it is or the name of it. Tale as old as time, I suppose.
(I paused the movie for roughly 35 minutes frantically Googling to figure out this bar, to no avail. Lost in time, but diving into the wormhole of northern NJ dive bars was worth it.)
image courtesy of RedBubble
As much as I like to yell, there are a few things Garden State gets right. Zach Braff is a talented director, and I think this is a great first foray into writing, directing, and starring in his own thing. It’s a lot to take on! And I feel like it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of coming back to your hometown after a long time away, as well.
This was of course not a life experience I had had yet at 20, but at 36, a lot of that whole subplot made sense to me. The one-dimensional Daddy Issues aside, the raucous houseparty sequence in a wood-panelled golf-themed basement is a party I’ve attended a million times, and being thrust back into it after being away and everything is just as you left it, never missing a beat, is completely jarring. Comforting, in a way, but very jarring. Like a time capsule of who you used to be.
Turns out you can go home again, but it’s not always what you want or what you need. That feeling is captured succinctly.
I love that it’s filmed all around familiar New Jersey, to me– Braff is a South Orange native, but for the ‘titular character’, Garden State could have been shot anywhere. Eh.
Like most dudes I was being wooed by in the 00s, this movie tries too hard to be Deep(tm). The iconic scene in the rain of the three main characters cathartically screaming into the abyss that’s actually a CGI chasm is the perfect summation. Natalie Portman is barely a character. She just serves as this quirky, damaged girl to steer Braff along into a more meaningful existence. His NJ friends are similarly directionless.
And GOD ON A WHEEL, that ending is still as infuriating as ever. Maybe Braff’s life in LA wasn’t all he’d hoped for, but he gives it all up on a whim for some girl he met like 72 hours prior?? I am not a romantic person, so this all just seems fucking INSANE to me. What the fuck, dude? Ugh. Your checked baggage is GONE FOREVER!
Ugh. That’s that.
I still do like this line, uttered by the seemingly asleep Peter Saragaard;
“Don’t tease me about my hobbies; I don’t tease you about being an asshole.”