Garden State: The Ultimate Male Fantasy

Ella Nieman, Journalist

One boring night, I watched some movies. I wanted to watch a sweet romance. So I went to HBO Max and searched. After a while of scrolling, I found Garden State. I’ve heard about it before from videos examining types of characters. The movie is about Andrew Largeman(Zach Braff), an actor on a successful TV show. After the show ends, he finds himself without more acting parts leading to his depression. One day his overbearing father calls him to inform Andrew of his mother’s death inviting him to the funeral. In his hometown, he reconnects with old high school friends. He falls in love with an amateur musician and compulsive liar named Sam (Natalie Portman).
Behind the indie music, this movie had a lot of layers to it that are bad. Andrew’s relationship with his father and his horrible friends, but his relationship with Sam is my main focus. The reason is that Sam is one of the worst-written female characters I’ve ever seen. Harsh claim, I know, but throughout the movie, Sam never changes. She’s an obnoxious stagnant character mainly due to the film trope of the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.”
A “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” (MPDG), termed by Nathan Rabin, is a woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The trope has been around since the late 1930s with Katrina Hepburn’s character in Bringing Up Baby. The MPDG only exists to serve the man. They have to change somehow. Andrew is sad, so Sam has to try and cheer him up. Sam is said to have a job, yet she is available throughout the movie to hang out with Andrew.
Sam is one of the worst examples of an MPDG in cinema. She’s obnoxious, and we know nothing about her except surface-level details like epilepsy and a strange affinity for animals. Her only traits are being happy and quirky. Sam’s introduction is the best example of her two-dimensional personality. Andrew is in the waiting room of the doctor’s office. He’s been having bad migraines lately and wants to get checked out. While waiting, a blind woman comes in with her seeing-eye-dog. While filling out a form, the dog comes over and starts to hump Andrews’s leg. Uncomfortable, he tries to shoo off the dog and hears giggling. He notices Sam, her feet on the chair with her giant headphones. After some quirky banter about animals, Sam comes over, squatting on the chair. They chat, and then Andrew asks what she’s listening to in her huge headphones. Sam responds with “New Slang” by The Shins. He’s never heard of the indie band The Shins before, so she puts her headphones on him, and he listens to five seconds of “New Slang.” before he’s called into the doctor’s office.
After the doctors, Andrew spots Sam walking home and offers her a ride on his vintage motorbike, which she agrees to. She takes him to meet her mom and shows off her giant wall of hamster tubes. Sam also reveals she is a pathological liar and an epileptic. Andrew admits he’s in town because his mother died, Sam, saddened by the news, takes him to the backyard and shows him a cemetery of dead hamsters. She tells a eulogy to the hamster cemetery and the scene ends.
The scenes reveal nothing about Sam except she sits weirdly, acts weirdly, listens to quirky music, and is drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, she’s pretty. Natalie Portman is playing her. Sam is strange, but it’s endearing because she’s cute with a radiant smile. Showing another trait of the MPDG that no matter what they’re always pretty. Comparing Sam to Andrew, who is quiet, mopey, and dull. The only thing keeping you interested in his character is the strange setting, how he drives an old motorbike, and his relationship with more exciting characters around him. Luckily, his arc in the movie is to become less dull and sad, but even after the whole film, he’s still just as flat but not as depressed. He becomes this person with the help of Sam, of course, helping him find the joy in life by yelling in the rain. Sam, throughout the movie, though she never becomes a new person. She’s never said to have any flaws to fix in an arc. Making her the perfect quirky girl for Andrew to love forever at the movie’s end. Instead of returning to his sad apartment in Los Angeles, he stays with Sam, and they share a heartfelt kiss. Andrew is staying with his perfect dream girl Sam who will always be perfect and quirky forever.
Is Garden State really so bad? No, it’s not. It had a lot of potential, and there’s more to the movie than Andrew and Sam’s romance (Also an awesome soundtrack), but it’s the main point of the movie, making it hard to ignore. Sam could’ve been a great character. A woman that feels real with her own flaws and trauma to work through. Some parts in the movie even hint to old trauma with her old ice skating career that got cut short due to her epilepsy. So in conclusion do I recommend Garden State? No, don’t waste your time there’s better movies that explore the MPDG trope in a different way such as 500 Days of Summer (HBO Max), and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Prime Video), both movies have amazing soundtracks, and actors. Both have amazing flawed female characters who do what they want, and go through their own arcs and changes. But taste is subjective.