From the List of Shame File #8: Garden State

While we have seen many films, there are many films that are held in high regard that we haven’t seen yet. As we cross them off our List of Shame, we’ll write about them here!

While some movies I haven’t seen because I just haven’t gotten around to them, there are some that I actively avoid. Garden State was one of the latter. The problems I had with watching the film are admittedly my own, but I was driven away by the incessant need of some of my high school classmates to rave about the film and bombard people with the soundtrack.

As both an indie film and indie music darling, the hype around Garden State was ridiculous. What kept me away was not a desire to give into something popular, but the fear of disappointment. There’s only so many times (2, I think) you can be told that something will change your life without becoming disappointed if you don’t immediately adopt a new religion (or at least, haircut) after seeing it.

So after delaying the inevitable for seven years, what do I think? I can say I absolutely loved it, with a few caveats. First, it almost feels like a lot of other movies I have seen in the interim, what with the indie music soundtrack and the listless male lead (Greenberg, etc.). In fact, come to think of it, it almost seems like an early mumblecore film.

In later years there was a lot of criticism about the female lead, played by Natalie Portman. Nathan Rabin of The AV Club noted the character Sam as a prime example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a trope of a character that I am growing weary of seeing. As he stated in his creation of the term, “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

However, in the end, none of this matters. The hype, the criticism, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, none of it. What makes Garden State special (and something I’m not sure I would have truly recognized at the selfish age of 17) is that it is such a personal film. In watching it, you can immediately connect with writer/director/actor Zach Braff. As the writer’s cliché goes, the more specific the details, the more universal the story (or something like that), and Garden State is no exception.

Besides being a minor inditement of overmedicating people’s emotional problems, the film’s core is about the emotional journey that Braff’s character takes, stepping into maturity in a place he hasn’t been since he was a kid, something far too familiar to college grads these days.

I’m really glad I held out on Garden State, because I think I got so much more out of it now.

And yes, the soundtrack is really good.

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