I remember not liking this movie and that Natalie Portman played a mentally challenged woman. Apparently I was only half right because I was still not a fan but Natalie Portman was not mentally challenged. However, she did seem like she was way younger than Zach Braff’s character. There was a scene where they are at a bar drinking and the time I kept wondering how she was allowed to do that but I guess it means her character was older than 21?
I actually really enjoyed watching this in the beginning. I thought it was funny and there were interesting characters. But I really did not like or even really understand the romantic storyline. I think it’s mostly cause I found Natalie Portman to be so annoying I really couldn’t figure out what about her was attractive to him. Maybe it was cause he didn’t have to talk around her and she just did that for him?
I think the movie would have been far more interesting if it had been just about his family and helping his friend go on their scavenger hunt.
I saw the trailer for Garden State in the summer of 2004 and at the risk of sounding very dramatic (though keep in mind I was 16 at the time), it pretty much took my breath away. Watching trailers was one of my favorite hobbies and I watched ones I liked over and over again. I’m sure I watched the Garden State trailer at least 100 times.
When it came out in the fall, it played an even bigger role in my teenage life than I had anticipated. Seeing Garden State turned out to be my first date (ever), and was also the location I experienced my first intense hand-holding. Now, it was not where I had my first kiss . . . that distinction goes to the empty theater after the movie Cellular finished. Much less memorable.
By the time I got to college in fall of 2006, it was very uncool to like Garden State. What just a couple of years before had blown my mind was now evidence of being uncool, which was very strange to me and a good preview of how the rest of my time at art school would be like.
But back to Garden State. I hadn’t seen it in years before Chris and I watched it together. I wasn’t super excited about watching it because Chris squarely falls into the category of someone who will make fun of you for loving Garden State. But I was curious to see it again as an adult and I’m really glad that I did.
For better or for worse, I don’t think one can truly appreciate Garden State if they haven’t themselves experienced severe depression. When we first meet Andrew Largeman (Zach Braff), he’s barely functioning. He only has a blank stare, only talks in a monotone and sort of floats through life as everything just happens around him, but not really participating. Depression can take on all different forms for different people, but Andrew’s depression was very relatable. We don’t see him sobbing, trying to kill himself, or even really talk much. He’s sort of going through life in a fog, and the severity of his depression makes him not care enough to try and do something about it, or to even realize how bad it’s gotten. One day, while living in LA, Andrew gets a voicemail from his father after ignoring him for a while telling Andrew that his mother has died and he needs to come home to New Jersey. Andrew doesn’t even flinch at this news, further driving home how depressed and empty he already is.
Andrew returns to New Jersey and meets his old friend Mark (Peter Sarsgaard), a grave-digger, at the cemetery. He goes to a party with Mark and more old friends, smokes weed, takes ecstasy, kisses a girl (well sort of, she kisses him during spin the bottle), and wakes up the next morning still completely detached. He goes to the doctor to treat headaches he’s been having, where we learn that A.) His prescribing psychiatrist is his father, which is a pretty big no-no, and B.) He’s been on lithium and all kinds of drugs since he was about 10 years old. Waiting for the doctor, Andrew meets Sam (Natalie Portman), a girl who talks non-stop and makes him listen to 10 seconds of The Shins. Andrew seems annoyed by, scared of, and sort of attracted to Sam. After his appointment, he sees her waiting outside and offers her a ride home which starts the process of Sam and Andrew falling in love.
Now, why would Andrew fall in love with Sam? Sam seems very young – we don’t know how old she is but I would put her at 19. Her immaturity was definitely something I didn’t notice at all when I first saw this in high school. She’s also very extroverted, has an issue with lying too much, and can in general be very overwhelming. But simultaneously, Andrew is weaning himself off his medications. As Andrew’s eyes start opening to more things around him, his emotions open up, too. And I think what attracts Andrew to Sam is that she’s the opposite of the shell of a person he was at the beginning. Knowing he’s gone almost his entire life heavily medicated without significant relationships, it’s almost like Sam is the first person he’s ever really met. They’re fascinated with each other, want to learn about each other, and eventually realize they love everything they know about each other. So on the outside, or to a normal person, I do think that Sam could be seen as a Manic Pixie Dreamgirl, or just plain annoying. But Andrew isn’t on the outside and he isn’t a normal person, so their relationship makes total sense to me.
Andrew admits to Sam and Mark that his mother drowned in a bathtub because she was paraplegic and that she became paraplegic after Andrew pushed her as a child and she fell backwards over a dishwasher door, hitting the back of her neck. Andrew’s father was convinced he had rage issues, so he started medicating him, and obviously blamed Andrew for the accident and subsequently for her drowning. Towards the end of the movie, Andrew finally confronts his father in a very low-key but tense scene where Andrew tells him that the accident was an accident, he was a kid, it wasn’t his fault, and he doesn’t need medicine. I liked this scene because I feel like we expect Andrew’s father to say that – to finally tell Andrew he loves him, that he doesn’t blame him for the accidents, that he’s fine. But instead, Andrew doesn’t wait for his father and tells him himself. He takes some ownership in his life and his recovery from depression.
In the end, Sam takes Andrew to the airport to go back to LA. He wants to go back and try to get his life together – to try and figure things out now that he feels so different. Sam is scared and sad as she doesn’t think the relationship will last once he’s gone. Andrew leaves and gets on the plane, only to run out and find Sam sobbing in a phone booth. He pulls her out and recounts their last conversation and says “That’s dumb, I need to stay.” Which sounds stupid and not noteworthy, but I loved how Sam and Andrew had a stereotypical movie-goodbye-in-an-airport scene just for Andrew to turn around and be like “Wait, no.”
I haven’t talked about him much, but Peter Sarsgaard is perfect in this, too. He’s someone that always looks kind of stoned, but thoughtful. He’s a dick, but sweet. And I just love his voice so much I could listen to him talk forever.
So is Garden State the greatest movie ever made? No. Is the soundtrack, that people love to make fun of now, amazing? Yes. But I really wish people could watch this movie for what it is and not get bogged down in other criticisms or let the movie feel dated. Because when you just watch the movie without pretense, it’s so good at showing how mental illness can work, and is both funny and sad. It’s not perfect, but it’s really good.