5-Word 365 #208 – Garden State

Here’s another flick that has been sitting in my DVD library for years, bought on a whim and filed away, forgotten and unwatched. Maybe it should have stayed that way. Today’s review is somewhat shorter than most, since I have decided to temporarily subscribe to the theory of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Well, aside from the strict interpretation of “anything at all”.

Garden State

What’s with the flaming arrows?

Emotionally numb 26-year-old Andrew Largeman returns from LA to his hometown in New Jersey for his mother’s funeral. Off his lithium for the first time since he was 10, he suddenly finds himself starting to really experience life while also falling in love with the local crazy girl. Bring on the wacky hijinks.

I really wanted to like this film. Scrubs was one of the best sitcoms of the last decade (if you choose to ignore the last couple of seasons), mostly thanks to Zach Braff’s JD. When his debut film as writer/director was released, I was genuinely eager to see it. I was hoping for a witty, charming, possibly somewhat autobiographical comedy. What I got was another “woe is me” exercise in navel-gazing that mistakes random quirks for characterisation. Apparently Braff wrote the first draft of the script while working at a restaurant before getting his big break. The subtle as a sledgehammer level of subtext – wallpaper shirt! Screaming into the abyss! – seems to support the idea of an inexperienced early-twentysomething behind the typewriter. I wonder if he got around to writing a second draft before starting production?

There were two things I did like about the film though. First, Peter Sarsgaard as Largeman’s old high school friend Mark. He’s the sarcastic and impulsive opposite of Largeman’s more reserved tendencies, and I couldn’t help thinking how I’d rather be seeing this guy’s story. The second thing is Natalie Portman’s smile. Sam – the character she plays – is a collection of just about every Manic Pixie Dream Girl cliche in the book, to the point where she doesn’t even register as a real person anymore, but I’ll be damned if her smile couldn’t melt even the most cynical of hearts.

Yeah, I can totally understand why he cast her in the movie.

Hipsters and indie-kids will probably love this. Me? Not so much.


  1. mhuard5 · July 27, 2012

    I’ve come to find this is a love it or really, really hate it movie. I’ve also seen that each time I watch it I switch sides. I can definitely see why you hate it though. Braff does kind of throw “symbolism” at your face.

    • Ryan McNeely · August 3, 2012

      Maybe I’ll try it again at some point. There were a few moments when I thought I might have been able to enjoy it more. I might try watching it stoned, see if that makes any difference.

  2. Will Malone · July 27, 2012

    Gosh, I haven’t seen this is some time but from what I remember I quite liked it, especially some of the dialogue between JD and NP. I still have quite clear memories of the ear tugging secret signal, which still makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Maybe I need to give it another watch. Have you seen The Last Kiss? Zach Braff is quite an interesting actor – excellent in Scrubs as you say, but his feature films tend to be a little downbeat and don’t really utilise his comic touch that made Scrubs work so well.

    • Ryan McNeely · August 3, 2012

      Yeah, the ear-tugging bit was kinda cute. I’ll give you that one.
      I haven’t seen Last Kiss yet. That’s the one with Rachel Bilson, yeah? Should I give it a go?

      • Will Malone · August 5, 2012

        That’s the one, I think it is worth a go. I have seen it a few times. It is a little maudlin at times and again doesn’t make much use of JD’s comedy but I really quite enjoyed it. Kicking soundtrack as well.

  3. AndyWatchesMovies · July 28, 2012

    When this came out people were shitting themselves over how good it was and so I went to see it and was totally nonplussed by it. I guess I’m not a hipster, indie kid?

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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