Zach Braff’s 2004 coming-of-quarter-age film “Garden State” was met with warm acceptance upon its release. The general critical consensus seemed to be that Braff took a lot of the insecurities and anxieties of being in your mid-20s, and spun it into a moody, soulful rendition for a new generation.
Shortly after its release, however, “Garden State” was held up as an ur example of an unfortunate emerging character type: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl. The actual phrase was coined by critic Nathan Rabin in his description of Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film “Elizabethtown,” reviewed in his book “My Year of Flops.” The MPDG character was a seemingly perfect, often impish and energetic female, usually written specifically to drag a mopey male character out of the doldrums of their own personal drama. They were a therapist, a love object, and a prize all at once, and the character type was appearing with increasing ubiquity. In “Garden State,” Sam (Natalie Portman) was the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
Her, and the film’s ultra-successful soundtrack record — replete with gentle folk rock and hot indie artists like the Shins, Coldplay, and Remy Zero — pushed “Garden State” to be endlessly parodied. In both positive and negative ways, Braff’s movie came to represent a certain cinematic style in the early ’00s. “Garden State” would eventually be spoofed by many.
In a recent interview with /Film’s own Ethan Anderton, Braff looked back on “Garden State” and admitted that he couldn’t really stand to listen to the film’s soundtrack anymore.
Hitting your Shins on the coffee table
Fox Searchlight Pictures
To clarify, however, Zach Braff doesn’t hate the soundtrack to “Garden State.” Quite the contrary, he was very fond of it. Indeed, Braff said that he was proud of the soundtrack, as — even almost 20 years later — fans still ask him about it. Braff said:
“The soundtrack, I bet the soundtrack comes up almost every day in my life, someone says something to me about it. So it’s amazing. I was 26 years old, man. I certainly didn’t think anyone was going to see it. And I just feel so lucky that it had the impact on people that it did.”
But when listening to the soundtrack himself, Braff is so starkly reminded of being 26 years old and pulled back to his time making “Garden State” that he immediately gets painfully emotional when he hears it. The Shins, it seems, are a catalyst for emotion, as is the well-worn Coldplay single. We likely all have songs that remind us, painfully or comfortingly, of times in our past. For Braff, just like many who were 19 in 2004, it’s the “Garden State” soundtrack. He said:
“[W]hen they come on, I’ll listen to The Shins, because I continue to love The Shins. But I won’t listen to the ‘Garden State’ tracks, because, I don’t know, it’s just such a sensitive place in my heart. It’s such a […] lightning-in-a-bottle moment. I don’t know, it’s kind of like I don’t want to touch it. I’m too sensitive around the time and the experience. So I can’t listen to Coldplay’s ‘Don’t Panic’ or that particular Shins song. But I do love the music. And I’ll still listen to Coldplay and The Shins, but just not those songs.”
Garden State will not die