' Cinema Romantico: A Movie Frozen in Time: Garden State

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Movie Frozen in Time: Garden State

I fear time, that green-eyed goblin of the lowlands, is the single greatest enemy of Zach Braff. Like Kerri Green will forever exist in the mind’s eye as a teenager, Zach Braff will forever subsist in pop culture as a wackily whimsical (whimsically wacky?) twenty-something, eternally ingrained as a self-involved sentimentalist with a pillow girlfriend prone to being picked on by world-weary cynics because he’s so goddam precious. That’s why “The Last Kiss” didn’t work; he belonged with Rachel Bilson more than Jacinda Barrett, and I still wish Jacinda would have left his ass sitting on the porch.

Braff’s 2004 feature film debut “Garden State” goes a long way in cementing this perspective. It’s a moment frozen in time, capturing him in the eternal posturing of a “sensitive, emotionally vulnerable twenty-something who had a hard time feeling feelings because being in your twenties is so hard, so very hard.” That’s a summary taken directly from Dan Ozzi’s article at Vice the other day with the extremely explicative title of “It’s The Ten Year Anniversary Of Realizing ‘Garden State’ Sucked.” He splits the full frontal essay assault into two halves – writing as someone who fell in love with the movie in 2004 and fell way the hell out of love with the movie in 2005.


“Garden State” was about a twenty-six year old man named Andrew Largeman (Braff) who returns to his New Jersey hometown for his mom’s funeral. He’s clinically depressed, or so his father (Ian Holm), Gideon, would have him believe. A psychiatrist, Gideon has prescribed his son lithium and anti-depressants for most of his adult life in some spectacularly imprudent attempt to engender his family’s happiness. And so the film charts Andrew exiting this pharmaceutical fog, to find that happiness is within reach if only he can set aside his induced moping, and that wakeup call arrives in the form of Sam (Natalie Portman). “(She) is one of those creatures you sometimes find in the movies, a girl who is completely available, absolutely desirable and really likes you,” wrote the late great Roger Ebert in his original review, basically describing {redacted} a few years before Nathan Rabin did.

Coincidentally, I was twenty-six when I watched the film. I was pretty shallow and full of clich├ęd cultural observations, two criticisms put forth by Josh Levin for Slate in a scathing explanation of why he hates Zach Braff. I also truly believed a song could change my life. That’s not easy to admit but then I’m not into emotional revisionism. I was very much of the movie’s demographic, “those of us,” as Ozzi writes, “who didn’t have life figured out, thought a lot about how we didn’t have life figured out, and sat around talking with our fellow non-life-figuring-outers about how we didn’t have life figured out.” I did not have dad issues and I was not chemically dependent, but I felt like I was sitting in deep water and trying to bail myself out with a straw. (That’s a Jewel lyric. Whose music I liked at the Largeman-like time of my life. I WAS CONFUSED BACK OFF.)

Now Me is not a fan of That Me. In hindsight, I was unhappy, yes, but also unwilling to buck up and do anything about it, preferring to wallow away hours, days, years. That’s why the extraneous sight gags and incessant sitcom-y bits of “Garden State” can occasionally be a narrative hindrance yet emotionally right (and often amusing); that’s how life feels to someone like Largeman. And to watch “Garden State” once that period in your life has been tossed in a barrel and burned like so many dead leaves is an eerie sensation. The film, Carrie Rickey wrote in a lengthy appraisal of both the product itself and its making, “documents the tectonic shift between generations.” And those tectonic shifts are just as detectable when you watch it. Watching it at twenty-six is different from watching it at twenty-seven, or thirty, or thirty-eight. I changed, I grew up and I slayed the horse with a sword on its head that protected my hopes and dreams. 

“Garden State” reminds me of a person I used to be, and I didn’t particularly care for that person and for that reason it’s difficult for me to enjoy the film much anymore. But that’s not the same thing as saying the movie “sucked”.

2 comments:

Alex Withrow said...

Couldn't agree more. This film reminds of a time and place in my life that, by pure coincidence, I didn't really care for. I rewatched the film a few months ago, and had a hard time getting through it, because it barely held up for me. Compared to 10 years ago, when I absolutely adored it. But that Vice essay was insufferable. There are a lot of movies I dislike, but spending that much time snarkily bashing a flick is something I'll never understand.

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, that essay just infuriated me. It was all of the anger with none of the self-introspection.