Zach Braff was the toast of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, where he emerged as an indie film wunderkind thanks to “Garden State.” The coming-of-age dramedy sold to Fox Searchlight for $5 million, double its production budget, and became a poster child for hip indies of the early aughts thanks to its Grammy-winning soundtrack and quirky characters. Flash forward to 2015, and Vice was celebrating the film’s anniversary with the following headline: “It’s the 10-Year Anniversary of Realizing ‘Garden State’ Sucked.”
Time has not been kind to “Garden State.” It’s the kind of film that now elicits groans and eye-rolls since its arty blocking (that wallpaper!) and alt-rock soundtrack have become worn out indie film cliches. Natalie Portman’s character, Sam, is often cited as one of the worst offenders of the “manic pixie dream girl” stereotype, which describes a quirky female character whose main narrative purpose is to save their male counterpart and teach him about the meaning of love and life. Nearly 20 years after the film’s debut, Braff confronted the backlash head on in a new interview with The Independent.
“I was just copying Diane Keaton in ‘Annie Hall’ and Ruth Gordon in ‘Harold and Maude,’” Braff said about Portman’s character. “Those were my two favorite movies growing up, and I was kind of taking those two female protagonists and melding them into Natalie Portman. Of course I’ve heard and respect the criticism, but… I was a very depressed young man who had this fantasy of a dream girl coming along and saving me from myself. And so I wrote that character.”
“I had OCD as a child,” Braff continued. “I knew I was battling something. That’s what writing ‘Garden State’ was about. I wasn’t as extreme as [my character] Andy, but I was certainly battling my own demons. As I was writing it, I was hoping I could survive what became known as the quarter-life crisis, and depression, and fantasizing that the perfect woman would come along and rescue me.”
Critics have turned strongly against “Garden State,” but Braff takes the bad reception in stride.
“I just feel lucky that I get to make stuff. I can’t really dwell on it,” Braff said. “Anyone who’s ever got a bad grade on an essay from a teacher can relate — just imagine it was out there in public, you know? No one said being a creative person was easy, but you have to be vulnerable and authentically yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Your skin gets tougher,” Braff added about dealing with negative press. “When you’re young, you’re very vulnerable. But I’ve been doing this for 20 years now. You get used to it.”
Braff is currently making the press rounds in support of his latest directorial effort, “A Good Person,” starring Florence Pugh. The drama opens in theaters March 24 from MGM and Orion.
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