Monday, July 28, 2014

Garden State Turns 10 (An Intro to Indie Culture)

So I realize Virgo Gumbo is turning into an anniversary site. Already this year I've written on classic albums I love and there's more coming down the pike. It's been a nice distraction from covering sports and it's also good sharing what you discover about something you like as time passes.

With that said, I'm happy to share my stories about Garden State turning 10. A film about quarterlife crisis before I even realized what that was and a film that I would've passed over if not for friends in college saying I should watch it.

One thing I enjoyed about college is being exposed to a ton of things I wouldn't have known. I came to school thinking I would hear about singer-songwriters* and indie artists. So when I entered my junior year in 2004, I was invited to watch this movie in a friend's dorm.

I saw the commercials for Garden State that summer but I didn't get around to it even though I knew Zach Braff was from "Scrubs" and Natalie Portman made it seem good. All I heard was this movie was going to change your life - you know, typical young adult hyperbole we all indulged in. I figure why not watch it.

After I did, I had a feel-good moment that I hadn't felt too often from movies. Just something hit me in a deep place of great storytelling, acting, writing and music. It was different, funny, quirky and had a soul that didn't feel forced or over-the-top.

Braff (Andrew) and Portman (Sam) had a great on-screen relationship. Andrew was coming to terms with his own life and wanting something more, Sam was the perfect imperfect muse to help him see what he needed. She was kind, loyal, wounded, screwed up but the sweet escape Andrew needed dealing with his family and finding a sense of home.

There's memorable and weird moments throughout the movie - the burial of Sam's hamster for one - but one that stood out was when Andrew, Sam and Mark were in a rain storm and they went outside. Earlier, Sam had told Andrew when she gets nervous, she making a noise that nobody else had done before and just lets it rip. Right before this scene, they encountered Albert, who told them about finding meaning in life by doing what he loves and being with people who matter. All of that leads to this climax.

It was a perfect build, a perfect release for someone who had been searching for some sense of meaning in life and a sweet moment of taking a dive into the unknown with no fear or repression. It reminded me of a class I took my 2nd semester sophomore year about coming of age novels and we explored similar character development. Throw in that I came into junior year caring less what people thought of me and had more comfort in myself.

I didn't realize how deep it would hit me until I started working and I hit my own quarterlife crisis. Occasionally, I kept thinking about this movie and also "Scrubs", which I think is perhaps one of the best TV shows to tackle that post-college life. Your early-to-mid 20's are a tough time to both grow up, start working and figuring out what to make of yourself as you transition into adulthood and I think that's what made Braff's story connect with many of my generation. The quote below also sums it up too.

"I have this theory that your body goes through puberty in its teens, and the mind goes through puberty in your twenties," he says. "[Andrew] is dealing with issues that you are going through all the time going into your thirties. He's lost and lonesome, which is something I definitely felt in my twenties" - Zach Braff in a 2004 interview.

The marriage of music made this film even better. Braff picked songs that helped him write the soundtrack and it carried the film. From hearing The Shins - the band Sam said "that'll change your life" - to Frou Frou's "Let Go" in the ending scenes was perfect and even now, I feel free hearing it. For more on that, check what Dart Adams wrote about it.

It introduced me to indie film culture and appreciating films that weren't on the mainstream radar. Thanks to it, I was prepared me to enjoy similar films like Juno and Drive. It also set the stage for me digging deeper in my musical education and set the stage for my love of indie/hipster music.

One day when I was home last year, it came on HBO. I hadn't seen it since college so I wanted to see it and wonder what I noticed nine years later. Seeing it again, I still loved it and Natalie Portman's performance was even better than I thought.

The film not only reminded me of 2004-05 but how I've had a few of those feelings Braff's character had as I moved through my 20's. I often took trips to San Diego to recharge my batteries and when I had thoughts of leaving L.A., it was usually intent on finding myself and a sense of identity that was lacking there. Eventually I began to figure things out.

I also thought about what my friend Keith told me about the dumb hump of 26/27 and getting over that would be a life change. It's the same age as Braff's character and I realized how things clicked for me to just let go and be me. Take chances. Live life. Stop being afraid and find comfort in those people and ideas that push you forward. It's the same things Garden State brings out when Braff has that release into the abyss and the final scene with him leaving his plane to be with Sam.

For me, Garden State holds up pretty well over time. Especially since Braff's whole M.O. as a writer/director is to explore similar themes (and I'm curious to see how his new film Wish I Was Here is like). I'd still watch it again if it came on not just for nostalgia but because it's a feel-good movie that makes you think a bit. It made me do it years ago and it still does now

*For example, somebody passed out fliers my freshman year about some local guy playing some shows near us. I didn't go but in the spring, I heard his first single all over the radio. That guy? Jason Mraz.

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