Contradicting Popular Opinion: Garden State

Contradicting Popular Opinion Garden State

A.K.A.

An Enquiry Concerning Why Your Favorite Movie Sucks

INTRO
I’m convinced that the term “coming-of-age” is some sort of slang for “shit I don’t care about at all.” I hated reading A Separate Peace. I felt like smacking Holden Caulfield through every chapter of Catcher in The Rye. Coming of age movies don’t seem to fare too well with me either. Stupid Dead Poets Society. Careful Prep-Schoolers, Robin Williams might steal your girlfriend and make her his next wife.

Naturally, I was tentative when so many recommended a “quirky coming of age story.”

Garden State

I don’t care for Garden State. I’m getting that out of the way right now. I know that my generation and those younger than me love this thing. I don’t understand the attraction.

First off, let me say, it isn’t because of the coming of age thing. Garden State is not a “coming-of-age” tale. These people are well into their 20s. They have jobs. They are OF AGE. I know that nowadays adolescence is supposed to last until 25 or so, but I don’t buy into that crap.

Garden State is not about coming-of-age. It is about pre-mature mid-life crises. Our two main characters have achieved the pinnacle of their success in the past. Now, they work menial jobs when they are supposed to be in their primes.

But do we explore this thing? No. I think that would be an interesting story. You have these people who are ostensibly ambitious and whose careers peak before they are 25. Our movie doesn’t seem to care much about this point. It doesn’t examine where all this ambition went. It doesn’t draw connections between past events and the current state of its characters.

Hell it barely draws connections at all. It shows us a bunch of little details that don’t ever seem all that important. At best they are mildly interesting but still superfluous. Are they just filler? The whole thing seem rife with unfinished thoughts. A bunch of semi-interesting ideas never really brought to fruition.

I guess the movie is supposed to be some sort of reawakening. Some sort of homecoming perhaps. It keeps on trying to tell me that it is about this thing or that thing, but never really settles on one thing long enough to say anything meaningful.

I do know it wants to tell me, “Stop taking your medication so you can feel reality.”

Of course, my medication is insulin, so I don’t think I’ll be doing that. Nor do I recommend that anybody recklessly go off mood stabilizers, no matter what Tom Cruise says about vitamins.

At any rate, what new feelings are really awakened here? Mr. Scrubs isn’t really over-whelmed with passion at any given moment. Nor grief. Nor rage. Nor lust. He still avoids confrontation, and still pretty much gets pushed around by anybody willing to push. I don’t fully see the awakening of feeling here. And if you are going to “feel” for the first time in a long time, there are going to be negative emotional repercussions.

Does he really need to go off his medication to meander aimlessly around Jersey?

That’s pretty much the problem with Garden State. It just wanders around, never really willing to commit to any sort of meaningful character development, nor plot, nor theme, nor tone. It has absurdist moments and a couple of funny lines, but it doesn’t really want to be a comedy. It doesn’t really have any moments of drama or suspense. There is no real chemistry between the leads. There isn’t really a compelling reason for them to be together. There is little art to the whole piece.

It’s a first effort that really looks like a first effort.

Don’t get me wrong, now. You can do a good non-Hollywood movie, one where the loose ends DON’T all tie up at the end, one where the characters aren’t necessarily likeable and maybe they don’t learn anything about themselves. But Garden State isn’t really bold enough to distinguish itself from Hollwood conventions. It takes a typical romantic comedy set-up and just lets it sit there directionless for a while, until I start asking, “Is this thing over yet?” and “Hey is that Bilbo?”

The soundtrack is hip with the kids too. I thought the music in the movie was bland, distracting and basically added nothing to help the flick. I like the Simon and Garfunkel song, but that’s about it.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie is Natalie Portman.

How I hate you Natalie Portman. I hate your tiny vegan frame, your lousy movies, your boring personality, your self-importance, your fake last name, your Harvard pretentiousness, your crooked smile, your frying pan face, and your stupid Star Wars haircuts.

I remember back about 7 years ago. People were telling me, “Oh Natalie Portman’s in the new Star Wars.”
“Natalie Portman is so talented.”
“Natalie Portman is so good.”
“Natalie Portman is so pretty.”

All I could say was, “Who the f*ck is Natalie Portman?”

“She was in Heat.”

“What like a dog?”

“And she was in Mars Attacks!

“Was she the one that was the President’s daughter, and ended up hooking up with, uh, Leap of Faith kid?”

“Yes!”

“Don’t remember her.”

“She was in Léon

“…”

“The Professional?”

“Oh, that movie that is always on USA.”

“YEAH!”

“Never saw it.”

So I went into The Phantom Menace expecting to see someone who was good. And could act and stuff like that.

I went out thinking that maybe the script was just that bad, and Lucas can’t direct people, etc. She’s probably good in other things. Right? My friends weren’t all idiots. Right?

I mean, everybody was saying that she was like the second coming of Audrey Hepburn.

I guess she is like Audrey Hepburn, only without the presence, or charm, or the simple matter of making good movies. And maybe a beaten up a little bit. There’s a weird jaw forehead thing going on there.

Fucking Star Wars man! She had a unique opportunity there. Every other major character in the movies had been in the previous trilogy, or were killed off in Episode 1. Natalie Portman had every chance in the world to add something unique to the world of Star Wars.

Was Padmé bold and brassy like Leia? An innocent, down to Earth adventurer like Luke?

Or was she just a cold fish with no personality and the world’s thickest Star Wars accent? I know she didn’t have the best lines to work with and all that jazz, but she was just horrible. Repeatedly, mind numbingly horrible. Seriously, she is like 1/10th of a Carrie Fischer.

Uncle Owen was as complicated and interesting as Hamlet compared to Padmé

The Prequels are what? 95 hours long? What memorable things did she add to the franchise? What the hell did she do at all? I remember her hitting on a ten year old in Episode 1. I remember the middle of her outfit getting torn off in Episode 2. She brushed her hair for the entirety of Episode 3.

Jar-Jar is a better character than Padmé. I’m not joking. There is no irony here. For as much as he is hated, and as much as he deserves to be hated, Jar-Jar is the only memorable character in the prequels.

Kinda makes you want to beat up a panda, right?

In conclusion, Natalie Portman needs to be shot in the face.

Oh yeah, and Garden State is unwatchable.

How to fix Garden State

First, replace Natalie Portman with the poor man’s Natalie Portman, i.e. Christina Ricci. She’s not terribly talented or good looking, but at least she is occasionally interesting.

Second, have stuff happen. I can’t stress that enough. Things should happen in movies. Then follow that stuff up with more stuff, related to the stuff that happened.

Third, a jive-talking Velociraptor!

Finally, as the credits go by, we should see a panda fighting a penguin to the death!

What to Watch Instead?

How about a movie with the real Audrey Hepburn? First one that pops in my head is Charade, which was recently, and needlessly, remade into The Truth About Charley.

Charade has Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, all sorts of good folk.

But that isn’t really like Garden State. Let’s see, twentysomethings, menial jobs, New Jersy, recreational drug use…. This looks like a job for Clerks!

Kennedy, signing off, reminding you to check out the culture section, and also reminding you that my love for you is like a truck.