How Does This Hold Up? is a series where Alex and a guest check out a movie they haven’t seen in ages or that they’ve always been meaning to watch. They’ll compare the experience of watching these movies now to when they first saw or heard of them and explore the differences there-in.
Alex: Welcome back for another installment of HDTHU. This week I’m joined by the lovely Meryl Williams, who watched Garden State with me on a drizzly Saturday afternoon. Which leads to my first thought: Oh God, Meryl, what have you done to me? You suggested this movie for the column almost as soon as I came up with the idea. It was a stroke of brilliance by you and I hate you for it. Because this movie is…bad. It’s oh so very bad. It was so bad that I spent most of our re-watch audibly groaning or gesticulating angrily. That’s how I react to Michigan football, not to movies! What the hell, Zach Braff? Who made you the Brady Hoke of indie filmmaking? UGH.
<mutters for 10 minutes>
You can read most of that muttering if you check out #GardenStateRewatch on Twitter. I was…not happy and on social media at the same time. Results may have cursing. But now that I have that (mostly) out of my system, I suppose we should set up our prior experience with Garden State. This movie came out the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I seem to recall seeing it twice in theaters. Once, with some friends right around its release and again a few weeks later on a sort-of date. If my memory serves we went to see Garden State instead of going to Homecoming, or something. Which I’m sure felt very independent and (fuck me) Bohemian to 17-year-old Bean. Cripes. She never went on a date with me again. I hope it was because the movie was so bad. All the same, I loved it at the time. Saw it again a few years later, when I was a Freshman in college, and cooled on it some, but that was it until last Saturday.
It wasn’t enough time. Oh God, there’s never enough time. Which feels like a good thought to punt to you on, Meryl. You’re the one that put me through all this, so what was your prior relationship with Garden State?
Meryl: Mwa hahaha. I knew this movie was a perfect candidate for this column because I saw just how it held up a few years ago. I first saw this movie when I was 19, and completely ripe for what it offered. I’d heard (and LOVED) the soundtrack well before, thanks to my big brother with better music taste. I ate the film up, but forgot about it for a while. Fast-forward to one night in 2012, when I thought to myself, this could be a great date night movie. The dude I was dating and I sat down to watch it, and the movie I remembered had vanished.
Except, of course, it hadn’t; I had just morphed into a somewhat less starry-eyed 26 year old, coincidentally the age Braff’s character is supposed to be (he was actually 30 when it came out). On that fateful evening I was faced with the cliche-ridden, cringe-worthy nightmare I made you sit through. You’re welcome!
I did some research for us, to see if we just liked this movie because we were dumb teenagers or simply because it hasn’t aged well — results are mixed. Roger Ebert enjoyed it for the most part, giving it three stars — he did cite major concerns with the underdevelopment of Natalie Portman’s character, which would later become known as a prime example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The New York Times called it a “smart, off-kilter comedy,” although both reviews compare it to the Graduate, mostly unfavorably.
What’s the scene you loved or hated most? I still stand behind the sweet pet cemetery scene, but the meet-cute (?) in the waiting room is a disaster. The only good thing to come out of that, as you and I agreed while watching, is the series of parody videos Daniel Kibblesmith created from it.
(That one’s for our editor-in-chief Travis, who unabashedly blasts that song literally every Friday.)
Alex: That hamster funeral scene is sort of redeemed by Portman calling out Braff for being an asshole when he makes fun of how her pet died. Why everyone else didn’t spend the entire movie doing that is beyond me, because his character/direction/writing/presence is just goddamn insufferable throughout. My favorite scene? Uh…jeez. Can I say it’s the hypothetical one where Braff gets the shit kicked out of him and then the movie becomes about anyone else? No? Damn.
<watches this until he feels better>
I just read the plot synopsis, even though we just watched this a few days ago, and I cannot pick a scene I genuinely liked during the rewatch. I felt so much revulsion at Braff’s character, Andrew, that it infected every scene he was in. Which is all of them. The whole narrative is built around him going off his meds and reconnecting with that makes life “real” or something. But he does this by being a mopey cipher for most of the movie and then transitions into being a self-righteous turd after Portman “changes his life.” I assume this happens off-screen at some point? I guess that party scene where he takes ecstasy and sits still as the other attendees swirl around him is at least sort of stylish. I still hate its over-obvious affectation, but at least it has narrative motivation here.
The scene I hated most is crystal clear, though. I even think I knew it was horrific when I last saw this a decade ago. It reigns above all the other shit in here as the most detestable moment by far.
This movie can burn in hell for every single thing about that moment. The expository dialogue. The idiotic philosophy (which gets repeated BY ADULTS later in the movie). The direction that maroons poor Natalie Portman, a talented actress, in the worst moment of her career. It’s a complete and unadultered disaster of a scene. Even if the rest of the movie was great, this moment would make me jeer. I can’t slam it hard enough.
But we should move on to closing thoughts! You mentioned loving the soundtrack, Meryl, and I agree that it’s still quite good. What stands out from it?
Meryl: Ha, I despise that clip you included, too. You just know Portman must have felt ridiculous shooting it. Also, that party scene is my literal my nightmare. I would be the world’s biggest wet blanket at that party.
As for the soundtrack, I still really dig “Blue Eyes” by the Cary Brothers and that lovely Colin Hay track. Last week’s episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour discussed “pop culture pariahs” and suggested the ire devoted to Garden State splashed back onto the Shins, but I don’t know that that’s true — they remained successful/popular after people turned on this movie, didn’t they?
All in all, this movie does NOT hold up, but I appreciate it as a tiny peek into my 19-year-old brain.
Alex: I honestly don’t know much about The Shins. I’ve heard other say that they got killed by this over-exposure, which would be too bad. No one deserves to suffer like that at the hands of the Braff. Indie rock sort of peaked right in those mid-Aughts years that coincided with the release of Garden State, so if they did slow down it may have just been part of a larger trend anyway. Also, my research says that the soundtrack apparently won a Grammy, which feels deserved. It’s a legitimately good indie rock mix.
The rest, though. You said it: only good as a glimpse at what we thought was good when we were young enough not to know any better.
Verdict: Oh God, The Embarrassment of Knowing That You Once Loved a Movie that Does Not Hold Up In the Slightest.