When this film premiered at Sundance this past year I was on the phone daily with the film's publicist trying to arrange a Scrabble game/ photo op between "Garden State" stars Zach Braff and/ or Peter Sarsgaard and the Scrabble champs I was chaperoning around the film festival. The game didn't pan out because the actors got too busy after the "buzz" on their film got out of control. I didn't end up seeing the film at Sundance & I have learned to become leery of the "buzz." I have seen films with good festival buzz flop in theatres and I have seen films that were under the radar at film festivals go on to be huge hits.
Anywhoo--I finally got around to seeing the film a couple weeks ago & I thought that it was a good effort, especially by first time filmmaker/ writer/ director/ star/ Scrubs fave/ Zach Braff. Writer/ Director/ Actors can turn a fine film into a megalomaniacal mess & Zach did a pretty good job of tempering his idiosyncratic self-loathing with other more interesting characters. The film works well as a character study--I especially liked how many character details were not plot driven. For example--one of the characters has epilepsy. In a many films, revealing the epileptic would serve as a plot device leading to a seizure & some dramatic but predictable life/ death scene. No one has a seizure in Garden State, thank God. Peter Sarsgaard & Natalie Portman are great actors & Zach was blessed to have them in his film.
There is one thing that really really bugged me about the film: the music. I was at the mall with a friend last week & I told her that I couldn't go in certain stores because of the music they played in them & she observed that I was a very auditory person. I never really thought about it before, but she is totally right. I can't stand the sound of popping knuckles, I hate it when the TV & radio are on at the same time & I loath films that use music as the driving force to the action. There were several scenes that transformed into a music video & really interrupted the flow and rhythm of the action for me. Plus, all the music is really trendy & totally dates the film. The plot is timeless--a guy going back home to face his demons & transform into who he wants to be--but in 5 years the whole movie will seem so out of style because of the music. I'm not against music in film in any way, but I hate it when the music overwhelms the mood--it seems like the filmmaker couldn't craft the mood himself, so he has to rely on the mood of music he has plucked from another source. My favorite use of music in film of all time is in Leaving Las Vegas. Near the beginning of the film Nic Cage is in his office, drunk as a skunk & there is some jazzy music playing in the background, then Nic hums a few bars along with the music! It was beautiful & Mike Figgis is a genius and maybe Zach Braff will get there someday too. I can’t really imagine what Zach’s next film would be like—this film is really autobiographical—but who the heck knows.