Unlike romance novels, I feel almost no urgency to see movies when they come out (I make exceptions for Pixar, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Robert Downey Jr). This explains why last night I watched Garden State for the first time, despite hearing buzz and recommendations and positive reviews galore over the past, oh, six years. And I was absolutely delighted.
It wasn’t just Zach Braff (who was sympathetic and altogether lovely), or Natalie Portman (whom I found utterly charming and likable), or even the story (which concerns the aimless twenty-somethings and one young man’s journey to confront Who He Is). Actually, what charmed me the most was the romance.
After all, we know about the double standard. And no, not the gender one. I’m talking about the literary double standard that pigeonholes certain plots as belonging to certain genres, even if the lines are crossed all the time. And Garden State, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, goes like this:
- Hero Has a Tortured Past and lives in the big city. Life is unfulfilling and he’s just going through the motions.
- Has a non-communicative relationship with father, and goes back to hometown when mother dies.
- Meets Cute with Heroine, who is Quirky but not silly, has Issues but isn’t tortured, and is All-American girl next door.
- Romance ensues over four days as they embark on personal journeys and explorations.
- Hero comes to an understanding with father.
- Big happily-ever-after at the airport with loving looks, passionate kisses, and soul mates united thereafter.
Come on. How familiar is that? I bet if you pitched this to a non-romance reader, they’d laugh their asses off. “That’s a chick flick, doofus! That’s not an Odyssean comedy with powerful insights into the minds of the lost generation of listless youths! What’s that you say? It’s written and directed by Zach Braff? The guy from Scrubs? Huh.” After which the conversation could go two ways: Either the interlocutor would actually check it out, or they’d check out.
We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again. And that’s why I found Garden State so special. Granted, it’s not perfect. But here we have a movie written and directed by a young (male) actor that unashamedly and clearly describes a romance with a solid 24-carat happy ending. And it’s not a romantic comedy. Now, don’t get all up in arms. I love romantic comedies; I really do. But too many of them are artificial and forced, and favour wack over substance. And do I always believe in the happily-ever-after? Not on your tintype.
But Andrew Largeman and Samantha ? You bet I believed in their happy ending. Because Mr. Braff wrote quality characters with realistic development. He wrote a good romance. And good on you, mate, for doing so.
– Jean AAR