2004 hardly seems like it’s in the past, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, it’s nine years ago. For myself, 2004 marked the end to the first year of college and the uncertainty that goes along with being 19 and on your own for the first time. Sure, it’s probably the most fun I’m ever going to have, but sadly, it’s hard to realize that when you’re in the thick of it. It’s this kind of listless doubt of the future that basically made me the target audience for Zach Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State. Coupled with the fact I was already a fan of Braff’s from Scrubs, my perpetual crush on Natalie Portman, and that I’ve called the Garden State home for the past 24 years, Garden State hit a place in me that few films have ever really gone.
It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve gone back to watching Garden State, but this past weekend I managed to catch it once again on IFC. Now nine years older than I was when I first watched it in theaters, it’s interesting to see the film after a hiatus of quite some time and to compare it to how it affected me when I was slightly more impressionable.
It’s truly a powerful bit of filmmaking to speak right to the heart of a large group of people, and that’s just what Garden State achieved, if only because of “right place, right time” syndrome. If I were 27 going on 28 in the summer of 2004, as I am now, perhaps I wouldn’t have enjoyed the film as much as I did (and still do; perhaps nostalgia playing a part). At 19, as a young aspiring writer, the film just sort of got what I was feeling, and arguably influenced my own writing even just a little bit.
One thing that could never be taken away by time is that there are moments of true visual beauty in the film. It’s a quirky sort of beauty; one that you may not see in a Terrence Malick movie, but it keeps with the tone of the film while achieving memorable, almost frame-able composition. You can tell Braff has a keen eye for a shot that can say everything it needs to; a skill I’m certain he picked up from the talented directors he worked with on the quirky/beautiful Scrubs. Lasting images such as wallpaper shirts, standing alone on the edge of a pool, and screaming down into an infinite abyss conjure up the time and place and feelings I had when I first saw them.
The music is still spot-on, as well. Obviously, the big winners of the soundtrack happen to be The Shins, who went from Subpop Records’ biggest act since Nirvana, to the biggest indie act in the world. Truthfully, however, the inclusion of the Shins always felt a bit shoehorned; the fact that “New Slang” is guaranteed to “change your life” makes it a bit more pointed, but it’s hard to find fault in any other music moment. Tracks by Zero 7, Remy Zero, Simon & Garfunkel, and especially Frou Frou give the bedding to some of the best scenes of the movie.
I think the one thing that does not stand the test of aging is some dialogue moments, but I think it has more to do with the place and time in your life that you watch the film than the passage of time itself. Things that rang true for me at 19 seem slightly more off-key with a slightly more cynical ear. Moments that seemed like inspired existential observations have transitioned to moments that seem a little hollow and more “Monologue Writing 101”. These are merely speed bumps in enjoying the film, however.
On the whole, I think the film holds up as well as any rite-of-passage story you may or may not have grown out of. It may not be able to recapture the same feeling of kindred-spirit-ness that I had back in 2004, but it’s still has all the solid performances it used to and some visual moments that are still inspiring.
Here’s the trailer, which is arguably one of the best trailers in the past ten years.