Weigh In: Garden State


For our next episode, we are revisiting Zach Braff’s 2004 directorial debut Garden State.  It was fairly well received by the 20-somethings of its day, and its soundtrack was a smash hit.  Quickly, and as is the wont of the 20-somethings of 2004, backlash against the film began to pick up steam.  Now, the film seems to be pretty widely written off as pandering and sentimental.  It has made Zach Braff more of a punchline than the It Boy he seemed poised to become.

What are your thoughts on Garden State?  What did you think of it when it came out?  What was your favorite song off the soundtrack?  Did The Shins blow your mind like Natalie Portman swore they would?  Speaking of which, what are your thoughts on Natalie Portman?  How did she escape the backlash?  What do you think of Garden State now?

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  1. I adored this movie when it came out (I was 20 at the time). These days, though, I don’t remember much. Except for:

    1. This one scene where dude’s shirt matched the wallpaper. Symbology!
    2. Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York”
    3. Dude driving away from the gas station with the nozzle still in his car.

    • Oh man. When I think about things like 1 and 3, I start forgetting what I thought was good about this movie 10 years ago…

  2. I was 18 or 19 when it came out. I remember feeling uncomfortable with how much I liked it because it fit into a zeitgeist that I felt like I was supposed to hate, or at least be wearily dismissive of. A lot of the time I hear it come up is in the context of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Anyway, I still listen to Iron & Wine’s cover of “Such Great Heights” on a fairly regular basis.

    • Ditto. I liked it but was uncomfortable with liking it because I felt like my buttons were being very intentionally pressed, and the music gave it an unfair edge. I think I was aware at the time that Natalie Portman’s character was a trope, even though I didn’t have a name for it yet, but it hadn’t been overdone for me at that point so I liked her, but then felt weird for liking her because it felt like she had been engineered to appeal to a certain kind of guy of which I apparently was one? All of which later turned into resentment for being pandered to. It was a confusing experience.

  3. I ticked the “Loved it at the time, now I’m not so sure box.” While I certainly don’t have as high a view of Garden State as I did in high school, I think maybe the revisionist hate maybe has gone too far. Here’s a nice piece that Vulture did on Garden State: http://www.vulture.com/2013/05/defense-of-garden-state-zach-braff.html

  4. Andrew M. (Drew)

    I also remember liking (not loving) it. I think I was secretly (or blatantly) in love with Natalie Portman. I think it was a movie that I thought I wanted (was trying) to make. I found myself listening (soundtrack) more than watching, but I don’t remember (possibly) much that has informed my later years. These days, things seems to fly out (and in) as easily as a an explanatory or qualifying word clause.

  5. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t enjoy it. I was under the impression that, based on my age and musical tastes, I was supposed to like it, which made me disinclined to like it even before I saw it. Viewing the movie through this admittedly less-than-rose-colored lens, Garden State did not strike me as sincere, and Portman’s MPDG character repelled me.

    With some distance from that place in time and space, I’m curious to see if those initial reactions would reoccur. But I’d rather just listen to you guys talk about it.

  6. I have enjoyed this movie well enough every time I saw it because a lot of the intentionally crafted jokes worked for me. The medieval times knight eating cereal in armor. The graveyard of beloved rodents (particularly because I had one myself). The woman singing “Three times a lady” at the funeral. They may not get everyone, but they get me, and I will give the movie credit for that.
    I also find it difficult to fault the soundtrack.
    However I can’t say the same for the movie’s moral/ emotional center. The confrontation Zach Braff has with his father concerning his mother’s accident. Decisions between him and Natalie Portman about their relationship. These scenes did not make me cry- and that’s saying something. So when this movie comes to mind I tend to think, “Not as good as Wes Anderson.” and leave it at that.

    Also: I lived on the Pennsylvania side of the border with New Jersey when this movie came out, so I have a lot of experience with New Jersey residents’ defense of their state. It’s like a back lash pride that comes from living in an obviously inferior location, and it is not a joke. My dearest friend in school would assert with dead seriousness that people from New Jersey were inherently special/ better.
    So this movie was a rallying point for a cause that I had little sympathy for. While unrelated to the film maker’s efforts, this has no doubt affected my opinion of it.

  7. I was only 14 when I first saw this movie, and it didn’t make a lasting impact on me. I may be a bit more biased then I used to be though because I love Zach Braff, mainly because of Scrubs.

    Although, with the new released of the sequel Wish I Was Here, it probably requires a rewatch.

    • I apparently can’t type. I meant to say, “Although, with the newly released sequel, Wish I Was Here, it probably requires a rewatch.”

  8. I just listened to this for the first time (it was one I missed). Can I just say I appreciated Nate’s homage to the sacred trinity of college dorm room movies. Donnie Darko and Eternal Sunshine were favorite films to geek out on during late night musings or overnight “study sessions.”

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