Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Wish I Was Here and Up in the Air, reviewed with sticky notes

When I return books and DVDs to the library, I sometimes stick little notes inside them for the next patron to read.

In today's edition, I did not enjoy Zach Braff's most recent film, and I continue to publicly air my increasingly pathetic celebrity crush on Anna Kendrick, who is wonderful and talented and lovely.

I loved Garden State. I still unabashedly do, in fact. And while it's far from a perfect film, I think a lot of the vitriol hurled at it is exaggerated, want-to-be-one-of-the-cool-kids groupthink. Hell, I even sorta-kinda liked the off-brand, Shasta Cola version of it, Elizabethtown. So, I think I have some credibility when I say that Wish I Was Here is a cloying, self-indulgent waste of time that doesn't have the decency to be not boring. This rental is overpriced, and I say that knowing that you're in a library and it's free. Also, Zach Braff's utter disrespect of the subjunctive mood pisses me off slightly.


If you don't fall in love with Anna Kendrick after watching this, YOU HAVE NO SOUL.
Or possibly, you have a soul, but it sucks.
Seriously, she's lovely.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Garden State at 10: Junioritis and home


On the first day of one of my sophomore year classes, our professor had us do a getting-to-know-each-other activity in which we all wrote down a dozen fun facts about ourselves on a piece of paper. Once we were all done, we'd introduce ourselves to each other, and, for every fact that somebody had written down that applied to you as well, you were supposed to put your initials next to the item.

I remember my fun fact that got the most initials: "I still love the movie Garden State," with the underline. More than half of the people with whom I spoke initialed it, and many of them actually repeated it back: "I still love it too," verbalizing the underline themselves. I'm not sure when the backlash against Garden State happened, but whenever it did, it happened hard enough that I felt compelled to couch my love for the movie with a defensive, self-aware still.

This past July was the ten-year anniversary of the movie (and this past week was the ten-year anniversary of me watching it), and many folks on the Internet have taken the opportunity to write thinkpieces on the movie -- either to smack it around further, or to offer some defense of it with an implied "It's not as bad as you remember!"

I don't have any unique, gamechanging defense of Garden State; rather, I'll just say that the hate for the movie is kind of absurd. It's not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination ("New Slang" did not change my or anyone else's life1, for instance), but there just isn't anything in the movie that should inspire anything worse than mild to moderate annoyance if it isn't your thing, let alone the accusations of cinematic malpractice frequently leveled at it.


Garden State, it's worth pointing out, got a very strong 86 percent at Rotten Tomatoes and a decent 67 points at Metacritic. Critics can be wrong, of course, but those numbers do suggest that the hostility towards Garden State isn't because it was a Terrible Movie That Everybody Agrees Was Terrible2.

In any case, the movie still means a lot to me, and I consider it among my favorite movies of all time. My DVD of the movie -- given to me, incidentally, by my AP comparative government teacher who bought it on my enthusiastic recommendation and subsequently hated it4 -- has been played more often than any other DVD I own, in part because Garden State has been one of my go-to AV comfort foods for a decade now. Here's why I think that is.

Junioritis

I saw Garden State at the start of my junior year of high school5, which is pretty much the best time for this sort of movie to have maximum impact. Consider this: Junior year is the oldest you'll be at high school without feeling like you're too old for high school.

In senior year, of course, high school feels irrelevant. You usually have the lightest course load -- a few AP classes here and there, or maybe a PE requirement you've been putting off, or study halls that transofrm into impromptu trips to the beach and/or Chili's. Or you've dual-enrolled at a local college and the physical high school itself is irrelevant. By October, you've probably applied to most of your favored colleges, and by January, most everybody knows where they're going after high school. It becomes very clear that your academic career will not end if you half-ass a SparkNotes-inspired Jane Eyre essay.

More importantly, the non-academic parts of your high school life start to feel irrelevant, too. Things that once seemed so important -- your friends' weekly movie night, emotional fallout from a failed relationship, trying to ask out someone you've been crushing on for months -- suddenly feel meaningless. As friends announce their plans to move to different cities, a sense of "We're probably never going to see each other again" hangs in the air; "We'll keep in touch on MySpace6" seems less an empty but well-intentioned promise and more an affirmation of just how far apart you guys will be.

Junior year is the opposite situation. College is still far enough away that high school still feels very real, but not so far away that you don't feel pangs of urgency -- oh shit, high school is halfway over! This is my last chance to leave this place with a bunch of amazing friendships, cool stories, and memories that'll last forever! It's this urgency that makes junior year so potentially transformational. It's the only year where high school feels both urgent and important because there's just enough time left that accomplishing goals seems both feasible and worthwhile but not enough time that you can afford to put it off.

And junior year is hopeful. There's hope that you really will be best friends forever with someone, instead of grimly thinking that all your high school friends are doomed to become "acquaintances with whom you occasionally get coffee and perfunctorily rehash old stories." There's hope that the parties or beach days or late-night coffee chats or road trips will still seem cool and significant and "what life is all about" two or three years from now. There's hope that a crush can be the one you love forever -- and not just your final pre-collegiate sex buddy a week before you each move into your dorms.

So if senioritis, broadly defined, is the apathy induced by the feeling that a particular stage of life (like high school) is no longer relevant because it will soon be over and nothing meaningful or important can be done in the time left, I think junioritis is the spurt of urgent activity caused by a realization that a particular stage of life is almost over coupled with the hope that there is still enough time left to do something meaningful and important.

Which brings me back to Garden State. The movie's main argument -- that allowing yourself to feel and experience life even if it hurts is better than numbing yourself to everything -- isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, but for a junior who was very aware that high school was halfway over, it was a call to action: to build and deepen friendships and relationships, to trust my friends and share parts of my soul I had previously kept to myself, and to try to have completely original moments in human history.


In other words, typical high school angsty stuff. But I don't mean to sound dismissive; I'm grateful that Garden State was there to kick my ass into taking more emotional risks, and to assure me that whenever those risks resulted in some heartache, what I felt was better than not feeling anything at all.

Home and the "Garden State moment"

The other big takeaway from Garden State was one that only clicked once I came back home from college during my freshman year Thanksgiving break. In the movie, Zach Braff talks about "home":


You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn't really your home anymore? All of a sudden, even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone. ... You'll see one day when you move out. It just sort of happens one day, and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist.

I wrote about this in my college newspaper as a part of a series of columns offering advice to freshmen. In the column, I defined the "Garden State moment" as "the moment where you feel that something with which you grew up that seemed so significant, comforting or protective just isn't all that relevant to your current life anymore," and offered as an example the moment when you come back home from college, visit an old friend, and discover that one or both of you have moved on.

What I didn't realize is that your twenties are a minefield of Garden State moments. Your twenties, after all, are these years that are filled with transition: new jobs, new cities, new people, new priorities. Your twenties are tough on every kind of relationship -- it's hard enough when you're making a conscious, concerted effort to maintain friendships; it's damn near impossible to rely solely on increasingly faded shared memories to keep them alive.

For all of Garden State's flaws, it does a remarkable job of capturing the feeling of lacking grounding and emotional homelessness. To be sure, there are more serious problems (e.g., actual homelessness), but for those wandering through their twenties, it can be soothing to the soul. I like this line from the now-defunct Premiere magazine's review: "Not since The Graduate has a movie nailed the beautiful terror of standing on the brink of adulthood with such satisfying precision."

I think Garden State is, in essence, a movie about not having your shit together, and the dislike -- if not necessarily the revulsion -- directed towards the movie is understandable if you have little patience for that. It's a movie that's awkward and heartfelt and messy and earnest, which can be tedious, but as far as losing your sense of home and finding a new one goes, "awkward and heartfelt and messy and earnest" is some kind of perfect.





1Except James Mercer's, I guess.

2Personally, I think it's some combination of: (1) how cool it is to hate Zach Braff now; (2) the navel-gazing films of often-poor quality that Garden State influenced; (3) a desire to put distance between one and a younger, presumably more embarrassing version of oneself that happened to like Garden State to prove unconsciously that one has matured; and (4) the desire for pop-culturally aware folks to show that they dislike the right things by being particularly vociferous about things that they normally wouldn't feel that strongly about, the way that people pretend to get all flustered and angry about Comic Sans3 even though nobody can articulate a real reason why they're that bothered by it. That, or they just really didn't like the movie. Whatevs, that's cool, too.

3Truthfully, I don't even like Comic Sans, but there's a smugness that permeates the Comic Sans hate, and smugness predicated on groupthink is kind of obnoxious. And the oft-stated reason for hating the font -- it's used in inappropriate settings -- doesn't really seem to justify the outsized scorn for it. WARNING: QUARANTINE ZONE - DEADLY AIRBORNE DISEASE! It looks weird, true, but do you really care? In conclusion, that's why all my emails and faxes at my previous job were in Comic Sans, and that's possibly why it is now my "previous" job.

4Well before the backlash, to his credit.

5I saw Garden State with who was, in theory, one of my close friends in high school. In practice, our friendship was kind of a disaster -- filled with angst and hurt feelings and so many awkward lunches in which none of our mutual friends were aware of how much we sometimes hated each other. But! She did become my go-to person with whom I could see off-the-beaten-path movies, a job that few of my other friends wanted, so I'm thankful for that. I remember taking her to see Brokeback Mountain, telling her it was a cowboy movie but omitting the fact that it was a movie about gay cowboys, and it was a moment of unbridled joy watching her shock at the first sex scene. I also took her to see Serenity; we went to a Sunday mid-afternoon show because I figured it'd be less crowded, but no -- we open the theater door, and we're immediately greeted with a packed theater and the scent of nachos and intense body odor. Yelling "For fuck's sake, Browncoats, I'm with a girl here!" was running through my mind. (She, like my AP government teacher, didn't really like Garden State, either.) 

6Yes, MySpace. This is a thing several people actually wrote in my yearbook. I'm old.