Garden State (2004) – Zach Braff

The Zach Braff film (writer/director/star) Garden State hasn’t aged very well. And even in 2004, some of it seemed questionable. The soundtrack that we all thought was amazing at the time wasn’t, and I have to tell you, I never liked the Shinns no matter how much Braff insisted the song would change your life.

The film follows Braff’s over-medicated Andrew Largeman home to New Jersey, where his mother has just passed, to see his therapist father (Ian Holm), and try to figure his life out. While there he meets up with a couple of quirky characters, his old friend, Mark (Peter Sarsgaard) and Sam (Natalie Portman), a character that may be even more screwed up than Andrew.

Sam has some serious issues, and yet the film’s narrative tells you this is adorable and isn’t she cute. She and Andrew latch on to one another, not quite a co-dependent relationship, but it could definitely happen as the film meanders to its ‘feel good’ ending.

It’s weird, I like the cast, and at the time, I related to everything the characters were going through. Even now I spend more time than I would care to admit trying to figure myself and my life out, and indie films in the early 00s were all about that.

And perhaps that’s why it was a success. We thought we were seeing ourselves onscreen.

And while I never really loved the film, I never really hated it. It just didn’t seem to resonate with me as it did so many of my friends and co-workers who were of an age with me. That may be on me though as I always felt like an outsider, and consequently couldn’t relate to everything they were going through, or in this case, what the characters were going through.

Everyone has angst and wants to share their musical choices, to find someone to confide in, to connect with, and maybe find some direction in what feels like an aimless life. Because of that Garden State spoke to a number of viewers allowing it to garner some cult status and gain the film some recognition for breakthrough directors and actors.

But it’s not as good as you remember it, and watching it today just highlights some of the problems with the characters in the film, from how they are portrayed to intentions and narrative. It’s just not as good as you remember it.

Some indie films endure, marking a moment in time, and some eventually get passed over and washed away. Garden State, I believe, is the latter.


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