When Garden State came out ten years ago, I was a 22-year-old naif who knew little of "critical thinking" or "not liking a movie just because it has kissing in it" or "maybe straight middle-class white guys have gotten to tell their stories enough times and there are many, many other stories that have never been told and seeking and amplifying those stories, thereby humanizing those underserved communities, is an ethical imperative for those who believe, as you claim to, in ending oppression," so I think my review went something like, "ADEQUATE!!!!! MORE KISSING NEXT TIME!!!"
As I learned in my anniversary re-watch yesterday, Garden State is not adequate. It is a doodoo movie and it stinks like doodoo. All the kissing in the world could not save it. Also, I just noticed for the first time that Zach Braff has a perfectly round mouth like a lamprey, which makes the kissing parts kind of weird, not that there's anything wrong with lampreys. #RoundMouthPositive #NotAllLampreys
Let us examine.
So, Zach Braff is on a crashing plane, and everyone is freakin', but not Zach Braff, because Zach Braff cares naught for plane crashes! Due to this modern world, Zach Braff eats many pills per day to destroy his emotions, even the emotion that makes you care about dying in a plane crash, which psychiatrists agree is a pretty big one. Thanks a lot, this modern world.
Turns out, though, it was only a dream, and Zach Braff wakes up safe and sound (IF THE CEASELESS MUNDANITY OF HUMAN EXISTENCE CAN REALLY BE CALLED "SAFE AND SOUND," AMIRITE) in his apartment, which is white and blank and full of pills just like his emotion-hole. Then his dad calls and is like, "Yo, your mom died, you should probably come to New Jersey now."
And Zach Braff is like:
Except really it's more like:
Before he can go to New Jersey, though, he has to go to his job at the Vietnamese restaurant, where today's special is MALAISE and his boss threatens to give his job to Todd Swanson from Duluth, Minnesota, who apparently is some sort of internationally renowned Vietnamese-food-serving wunderkind. FUCK YOU, TODD SWANSON.
(Note for the writers of 2026's Garden State reboot: Missed opportunity to have him work at a MALAISE-ian restaurant, imo. Be the change.)
So, he flies to NJ and goes to his mom's funeral, which is fine, and reconnects with his high school friend Peter Sarsgaard, who is foine. Some lady makes him a shirt out of wallpaper and he's a real dick about it.
"You're going to love the material. I used the leftovers from your mother's design. Gorgeous."
Then his dad, Bilbo Baggins, is like, "Son. Come over here I need to withhold some emotions from you." And ZB is like, "Hey, dad, I'm having these headaches, am I dying?" and Bilbo is like, "Who do I look like—Radagast the Brown!??!?!?!" and ZB is like, "Kind of, tbh."
He hops in his twee-mobile and heads to a party with Sarsgaard and this horrible Velcro magnate, and everyone is like, "You're some big movie star now!" They do not know it, but really he is small. Just a small movie star in a white apartment full of medicine cabinets. Truly the greatest American tragedy.
The Velcro magnate talks about how he got too rich selling his patent for "silent Velcro" (HOW IS THAT A DESIRABLE PRODUCT, BTW), and now he's terribly, terribly, terribly bored and alone with only his mansion, his friends, his hot babes, and his anything-he-wants-in-the-universe, and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to knit our brows and nod and feel like we learned something profound about the world because IT'S SO HARD BEING A RICH WHITE MAN SWIMMING IN VELCRO MONEY. Except it's not. It is objectively easier than being most other things that a person can be. If you're so fucking bored, invent something else. God, fuck this movie.
Meanwhile, ZB gets grinded on by a hottie and feels nothing. Too basic.
He wakes up at Sarsgaard's house and Jim Parsons is there dressed as a knight, which is moderately diverting for 30 seconds, and then everyone sits around petting dead cats for three to four hours.
Suddenly, Braff remembers about his headache appointment with Radagast! Oh no! He's late! He throws the dead cat aside and it miraculously reanimates, validating my long-held and widely ridiculed theory that Zach Braff's crotch is a pet sematary. WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, SCULLY.
He rushes over to the clinic where he immediately gets humped by the world's second most incompetent seeing-eye dog (after Blindy, the Wonder Potato) and cannot figure out how to get its red penis off of him. Just an idea I'm workshopping—how about: "HEY LADY, GET YOUR DOG OFF ME."
Enter Natalie Portman.
Natalie Portman's character claims to be a human being but is actually a genie that exists entirely within the mind of Zach Braff's dreaming penis. Much has already been written about this, so I will not rehash it in great detail. She tap-dances. She lies, puckishly. She emcees somber hamster funerals. She introduces strangers to her blankie. She figure-skates in a crushed-velvet alligator costume. She wears an epilepsy helmet just long enough to facilitate a wise and bittersweet moment and then never wears it again. She walks over to her record player and opens the lid but doesn't put a record on just to make VERY SURE you know she has one.
Here are some words that Zach Braff wrote down for Natalie Portman to say throughout the course of the movie:
"My hair's blowin' in the wind."
"Can we have code names?"
"You know what I do when I feel completely unoriginal? [WORST THING EVER HAPPENS] I make a noise, or do something that no one has ever done before. Then I can feel unique again, even if it's only for a second."
"If you can't laugh at yourself, life's going to seem a whole lot longer than you'd like."
"I'm weird, man."
OH, ARE YOU? TELL ME MORE.
They hang out in the graveyard while Peter Sarsgaard robs graves and then ZB and NP watch a french bulldog masturbate. At this point the accumulated quirkiness has blocked out the sun and the crops have failed. All's lost, all's lost.
Peter Sarsgaard says he has a surprise for Zach Braff, but first they have to go watch porno in a closet with Method Man (<———MAKE THIS YOUR ENTIRE MOVIE NEXT TIME). When ZB begins fretting about dirty dirty porno getting all over NP's delicate sensibilities, she retorts, "I'm not innocent." And he goes, "Yes you ARE, and that's what I like about you."
OH FUCK OFF, MAN.
Sarsgaard leads them to this quarry in Newark, which is a metaphor for GUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, where they find a bloviating pilates instructor who lives in an old boat.
Ugh, you live in an old boat in the bottom of a quarry in Newark? How pedestrian. MY junkyard guru lives in an old tampon box in the bottom of a witch's well in San Antonio. Plebe.
He gives Sarsgaard a package and then, famously, everyone screams into the abyss to represent the battle against over-medicated 21st-century millennial ennui and it is so fucking stupid that now I AM an abyss. Then ZB sort of tenderly lips NP's face like a gorilla investigating a pair of bifocals.
Sarsgaard finally gives Braff his secret present, which is his dead mom's "favorite necklace," and is like PS, YOU'RE WELCOME, I ROBBED YOUR MOM'S GRAVE FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY. I DUG UP HER COFFIN AND UNBUTTONED HER BLOUSE AND LIFTED HER CORPSIFIED HEAD AND TENDERLY UNDID THE CLASP AND STOLE THIS NECKLACE AND NOW I'M GIVING IT TO YOU. SORRY ABOUT THE SMELL. AND THE CURSE.
And Braff is, like, jazzed about it. Like that was a real solid thing to do.
He and Portman go celebrate by sitting in the dry bathtub where his mom died, and he goes, "When I'm with you I feel so safe. Like I'm home."
OH, THANK GOODNESS. BY THE WAY, SHE HAS LITERALLY NOT ONCE SAID HOW SHE FEELS FOR THIS ENTIRE MOVIE.
Then he goes to the airport and then he changes his mind and comes back from the airport because he realizes that without his presence she would simply wink out of existence because she is a fucking shell of a person, a marionette, an agency-free boner-golem.
"You changed my life," he explains. "You changed my life and I've known you four days. This is the beginning of something really big [MY PENIS]."
And then they penis. The fucking end.
Images via screengrab