“You gotta hear this one song, it’ll change your life I swear.”
There is a certain age of people, about 30-35 years old right now, for whom Garden State was one of the formative movies of their generation. I’m one of them. Andrew Largeman as played by Zach Braff, revisits his childhood home after a decade away for his mother’s funeral.
Though it’s about a twentysomething, the movie resonates with adolescent themes and fears: What does it mean to truly love? How do we live our own authentic lives? And, for a generation of suburban teens who were mass prescribed drugs for ADD, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and more, Largeman’s skeptical look at psychological pharmaceuticals felt fresh and compelling: We’d just spent years of doctors and parents telling us there was something wrong with our brains, and here was a film arguing that we could — that we needed to — escape that.
Many aspects of the movie do not hold up: Natalie Portman’s character is peak Manic Pixie Dream Girl. A surprisingly effective downbeat ending is undercut by an abrupt happy twist. As a whole, many of the threads fail to cohere so that the film feels a bit like a set of loosely-tied episodes plus some pointless meandering.
That said, I still admire and enjoy Garden State. It tapped into a certain longing in its best scenes that, if not fresh in the scope of all cinema (see: The Graduate), was at least fresh to us mid/late-80’s kids. And a handful of scenes are, to me, truly iconic.
Perhaps the most famous scene of the movie is when Portman’s Sam tells Largeman to listen to a Shins song on her oversized headphones: “I’ll change your life I swear,” she says. It’s one of the first moments of the movie that allows Largeman to “soak it in,” and it sets a bittersweet tone on the movie that resonates.
And now, whenever I hear “New Slang,” I can’t help but think of the person that Garden State made me believe I could be.