Ep. 12: Garden State


Ten years after the release of Garden State, writer/director/star/punching bag Zach Braff has come out with a new movie, Wish I Was Here.  The reception was ambivalent to negative, a stark contrast to the general reception of Garden State.  Nate and Ryan hadn’t seen Garden State in years, but couldn’t help but notice that the general perception of the film and of Braff has been quite venomous.  They decide to rewatch the film to try to determine if the backlash is warranted.

Garden State tells the story of a depressed struggling actor played by Braff, who goes home for the first time in nearly ten years following the death of his mother.  He is given a new outlook on life when he meets an unsettling a quirky young woman (Natalie Portman) who helps him enjoy life.

After listening, tell us your thoughts.  Have you rewatched it recently?  Is there anything we missed?  Jump into the discussion and add your thoughts.

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  1. Such a good episode, you guys. I laughed, I cried, I giggled like a manic pixie. This was me when you guys started letting loose.

    I liked Ryan’s theory that we made Zach Braff and his movie into the scapegoat for our anger at becoming disillusioned (and generally anger at ourselves at that stage of our lives). S’good. And I liked where you both landed in terms of giving Zach Braff the benefit of the doubt in terms of his sincerity, and his movie being in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time. It still seems like it was eerily timed, though, and it makes me wonder how much truth is behind your comment that Fox Searchlight had a hand in getting this zeitgeist-y film out at the right time and marketed to the right people.

  2. Hey Dan,
    The Fox Searchlight suspicion is warranted, especially considering their other 2004 summer release was Napoleon Dynamite.

    Can you even think of two better examples of indie films propelled into the mainstream that later received heavy backlash?

    • That’s funny, that’s exactly the other movie that came to mind when I was thinking about this phenomenon – I’d add The Aquatic Life with Steve Sizzou (also 2004!). My 2nd viewing of Napoleon Dynamite was very similar to my 2nd viewing of Garden State and Aquatic Life, all of which I enjoyed the first time but found incredibly dull and full of over-intentional quirkiness on their second viewings.

      I ended up coming back around to repeatedly enjoying Napoleon Dynamite, though. Something about the crafting of the awkwardness had a more lasting appeal.

      • (and Wes Anderson continues to be fantastic, just had a bad year there)

        • The Life Aquatic is often seen as one of Wes Anderson’s divisive films, so while it shouldn’t surprise me, anymore, I love that movie so much, that it does still strike me as odd when people don’t connect with it. And I guess I love it and Eternal Sunshine so much that to have them lumped into the gentrified indie neighborhood makes me feel like the classification might be a bit off. I don’t know. With those movies, I get pretty protective. I need to calm down.

          • Heehee! Deep breaths. To help assuage your rage, I didn’t mean so much as to lump it in with “gentrified indie” but to compare my response to it with my response to those other films; it has significantly more intrinsic merit than the other two, I just bounced off of it during my second viewing for various reasons, one of which may be that it came along at the same time as many other movies trying to intentionally quirky and off-beat. Would “The Life Aquatic” make a good subject for a CWSBF episode?

  3. Hey guys, just listened to your Garden State episode on my drive home today and I really appreciated it. You’ve done a couple of episodes in a row about movies that are pretty flawed (Hook and Garden State) but that for different reasons are still worthwhile and interesting. I think that gets at a really good point, that the movies (or whatever) that we connect with aren’t necessarily the ones that are perfectly conceived and executed. I think some critics fall into the trap of being too objective, and fail to acknowledge the subtext or other important factors. You guys were able to be honest about Garden State’s flaws, but also recognize why it was what it was and meant what it meant to a lot of people our age. So thanks for that.

    Love the podcast. You guys are super fun to listen to.

  4. Please don’t stop, this podcast is great. I liked how well you were able to dissect the backlash. I see now my own discomfort about the movie was discomfort over basically seeing my own sensibilities, and finding out I wasn’t nearly as complex, deep, mature, sensitive, or interesting as I thought I was. This movie proved that I COULD be marketed to, that the things I valued about myself at the time were easily summed up, packaged, and sold. Not to diminish Zach Braff’s sincerity, like you guys pointed out, just that its popularity deflated a carefully curated but shallow sense of self I had at 18.

    More stuff about the MPDG, because this hasn’t been rehashed enough: I read Rabin’s Salon piece about the trope, and how much he doesn’t like it. It’s a really, really weird exchange, and I don’t blame him for feeling weird about it. On the one hand, it could be used to call out sexist, lazy writing which uses romantic fantasy exclusively for the elevation of male characters. On the other hand, the term can be used to dismiss any female character, or actual human beings, which is infinitely worse. Zoe Kazan, a writer and actor Rabin quotes in the Salon essay, says the term is a sexist cudgel used to condemn any female character who might be a little unusual. This quote absolutely nails it: “What bothers me about it is I think that women get described that way, but it’s really reflective of the man who is looking at them, and the way that they think about that girl. Not about who that girl really is or what her personality actually is. I think that to lump together all individual, original quirky women under that rubric is to erase all difference.”

    I do, however, think it’s worthwhile to separate these two uses. On the one hand, it can be used to dismiss people and things in an unfair way, excuse blunt and thoughtless criticism, and veil sexist attitudes. Still, though, it can be an at least marginally useful critical shorthand to condemn lazy and sexist writing. A critic can’t stop there, because that in itself is lazy, but I really do think it’s a convenient way to call out the misogynistic nonsense too often passively accepted by some audiences.

    • You’re right, Stephen. The MPDG is a useful way to point out poorly realized characters, but there is no shortage of labels in our world that are used to dismiss the personalities, ambitions, feelings, and validity of women who step outside the very narrow and archaic and unbelievably still accepted definition of “feminine.” I feel bad for Rabin because he hit on something quite genius and pointed out rampant flaws in modern art, but it got out of his control.

      I’m glad you liked our take on Garden State. It wasn’t easy for me to admit that Braff really had done little wrong (aside from flaws in the film that were more likely first time director mistakes), and that the attitude I was adopting had little to do with the film itself. If he had made a better film, would we be as furious? I’m not sure. This isn’t the first time a generations sensibilities have been sold back to them. Reality Bites and Benny and Joon, among others, are movies for Generation X about Generation X, using their music and tastes, but they live on in hallowed halls, rather than the snark reserves of internet commenters. I personally don’t really like Reality Bites (I haven’t seen Benny and Joon), so I don’t get the appeal. But the point is, what Braff and Fox Searchlight did wasn’t unprecedented.

    • Thanks for the summary of that, Stephen; I knew there was disagreement about the term but wasn’t aware of why until now. I’ll have to think about how I use that, seems like it’d be really easy to slip from the first use of the term into the second if I’m not being reflective.

  5. I don’t think I’ve seen Garden State since first watching it years ago. It left an impression on me though, as I’ve said multiple times when a strange event happened in my life (ie standing in the Ace Hardware parking lot as my friend shouted back and forth to someone he knew up in a lift – not sure what the guy was doing in the lift), “That was a Garden State moment.” The example was probably not explained well but it’s interesting to me that 1) I remember that example and 2) that I still remember that it reminded me of Garden State, a movie I maybe only saw once.
    And the movie made me love Frou Frou! I bought their CD and listened to them as I ran on the treadmill in college. 🙂 The soundtrack had a strong influence on the music I listened to at the time.

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