Reflections On Garden State, Wish I Was Here, And The Work Of Zach Braff

April 10, 2014

Garden State came out at the perfect moment for me. When Zach Braff‘s masterpiece hit theaters on July 28, 2004, I was just beginning to pack my bags for college. My days in that last month of summer were filled with long walks with my best friends, tearful goodbyes upon goodbyes, and lots of (sometimes drunken) reflection about what it meant to be leaving my hometown. I was the perfect audience for a movie that asked questions about what “home” really meant, that played beautiful songs while reflecting on death and the cycle of life and loving your parents and missing something you can’t even identify.

I saw it in the early weeks of August, and then I saw it again in the fall, this time with my new college roommate. We were both scared and lonely, not having settled in to our new life yet, and it was a Saturday afternoon when we walked to the movie theater in our college town and saw the movie again. Afterwards, we were both quiet, and honestly I’m pretty sure I cried, or at least definitely felt like crying. Don’t even get me started on how I got the soundtrack for my birthday that October and listened to it over one million times in the subsequent months of adjustment.


So it was weird for me when the Garden State backlash started. I’m not sure exactly when it happened (though it was definitely after I’d created the somewhat-popular Facebook group “Good luck exploring the infinite abyss”) — but at some point, people started to make fun of Garden Sate. It became cool to think it was dumb, hipster, angsty shit. It was no longer regarded as a good movie; it became a joke. Things I hadn’t really taken in before suddenly struck me, like: what a dumb plot device that Andrew had paralyzed his mother because of a faulty latch. And, he seriously hadn’t been home ONCE since middle school? And, come on, that airport ending is sooo bad.

All that stuff is true. It’s definitely not a perfect movie. But that doesn’t make the impact it had on me in those late summer days of 2004 any less significant. I like the movie — there, I said it. Even if it appealed so intensely to me at the time precisely because I was flawed, adolescent, and overly-emotional. Even still.


Now, Zach Braff has made another movie, Wish I Was Here. The first trailer was released yesterday, and I have to admit that I cringed a little when I heard the first intense strains of “Simple Song” by The Shins (which plays throughout the whole trailer). It was just so ZACH BRAFF. And that’s become such a thing. People just hate him, and I’m not sure why. Of course, I can get that he didn’t help his already flailing reputation by crowd-funding this movie; that played in to all of people’s frustrations with him. People see him as intensely, annoyingly earnest, and overly willing to explore self-indulgent emotions. I can see that (and I definitely didn’t donate to the movie), but I also know that the things he produces have made me feel a lot, and I’m not sure if there’s anything wrong with that. Maybe it is self indulgent, but is it any more self indulgent than, say, my weekly cry-show, Parenthood?


And what about Scrubs? Nobody talks about Scrubs anymore, but that show was damn good. Especially in its early seasons, it expertly walked the line between genuinely funny and fully heartfelt — not to mention that I’ve heard several doctor-friends say that it’s the most realistic show about a hospital that they’ve seen on television. In the same manner as Garden State, it used music effectively to create mood, and the quirky, lovable character of JD was rounded and interesting. It was good.

Still, part of me does hate Zach Braff for being so god damn Zach Braff-like; that shit has just seeped in to my pores. I would never describe his work as important, like I would the work of the Lena Dunhams and Matthew Weiners of the world. But I do think it has its place. Even if it’s just meant to serve 17 year-olds, then so be it. They need an outlet for all those feelings! And, 17 or not, we all need a good cry sometimes. It feels pretty good.

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