Garden State (2004)
Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard
Written By: Zach Braff
Directed By: Zach Braff
Release Date: August 20, 2004
Summary: A depressed young man finds meaning in his life when he heads back home for his mother's funeral.
My Thoughts: This movie made me fall in love me Zach Braff. As a writer, a director and actor, I have a lot of respect for him because of this movie that I decided to catch after looking into the troupe of the "Pixie Manic Dream Girl." It surprised me in a lot of ways and I'm here to say that I'm so glad I watched it.
Our protagonist, Andrew, is down. He's depressed and for most of his life he's been on a multitude of antidepressants to try and keep his emotions from bubbling up. His home life is shit and he really has nothing going for him until he his mother dies and he heads home to all the people he once knew to bury his mother. Here we have a simple story that's telling a much grander one in-between the lines. Here we have a story that actually means something and it can mean something to anyone, not only those like myself who have depression. We have a story about a man trying to find meaning in his life and thinking about it now, isn't that what we're all trying to do? Everyday we look for reasons to wake up and take on the day, whether it be work or a child or our significant other, but for Andrew, he feels he has no reason until he goes home until he meets Sam, his Pixie Manic Dream Girl.
The term "Pixie Manic Dream Girl" comes from critic, Nathan Rabin of the A.V Club's review of Elizabethtown where he defines these women as “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures” and in the film that's merely what Sam does and nothing more. She serves as this quirky mentality that life is great and all that jazz, but not an actual person. While I adored her in the movie, we learned nothing more about her character. Yes, we know she's probably mentally ill, but from what? Why does she lie so much? Why was she at the clinic when Andrew first meets her? And Andrew's relationship with Natalie Portman's character, Sam, is something else. While we don't really find out much about Sam, except the fact she's mentally ill of course, her presence and her willingness and hopefulness for life is what draws Andrew in and helps him see the beauty in the world. While I have a lot of personal problems with this, that doesn't make this movie bad. By creating these troupes for women, we take away a little bit of power from the movie itself. We take away some of the meaning from the movie because instead of a character having a message to tell the viewers, time after time, we have these characters become messages themselves and not actual people, which actually kind of sucks, but that doesn't make this movie bad.
The writing is great, the dialogue is great and while I wanted more from Sam, I still felt fulfilled at the end because this movie taught me something and that's what movies are supposed to do. It taught me something about life and it taught me that even though we have lives, we aren't supposed to know what we're going to do at every second of the day or what's coming next. As Ethan Hawke's character in Boyhood says, (or something along the times of), "we're all just wingin' it." And that's it. While I wanted to know more about her, I realize now that this movie wasn't about her and her place in the film wasn't her own. She was basically in Andrew's shadow the whole time, but I can't quite place if it was intentional or not. Was she meant to be this troupe the whole time? Was she never meant to be a fully developed character? I can't tell and I probably never will ever be able to tell.
So what I'm basically trying to say is, go see this movie. While it has problems, these problems don't take away from the film. This movie is human. It's real and honest and has you thinking a lot of about your life and just mainly about, 'Why is it the way it is and why are we living this way?' However, the real answer is 'Why not?'