Published Sep 11, 2015If you were in your late teens or 20s in 2004, there's a very good chance you loved Zach Braff's sad-sack coming-of-age dramedy Garden State. Hindsight has not been kind to the film, however, thanks to its gratingly twee humour, polite indie soundtrack and stock character archetypes. Now, even co-star Natalie Portman seems to have turned on the film, admitting that she feels "insecure" about her role.
Her insecurity was sparked by the Comedy Central sitcom Broad City — a show that Portman evidently loves — which recently made fun of Garden State. During a public discussion on Wednesday (September 9) at TIFF, the actress was asked about Garden State.
I've been insecure about it recently because of Broad City. Does anyone here watch Broad City? Best show. If you haven't watched it, watch it. And on the show there's a really dorky character who's a gym instructor, like an Equinox guy or something, and he's the worst. And he's like, 'Oh my God, I love Garden State! I donated all my money to Zach Braff's Kickstarter.' And I'm like [buried head in hands], 'Oh my God.' So now, because the people I think are the coolest think it's really lame I'm kind of insecure about it."
One of the key criticisms against the movie is that Portman's character — the epileptic, pathological liar Sam — is a prime example of the "manic pixie dream girl" archetype. That term describes an eccentric fictional female character whose sole purpose us to help a male character progress in his emotional journey.
When I read it I was like, 'Oh, this is a character that's wacky and interesting, and no one's ever given me a chance to play something like this. It's this sort of unusual girl.' So that was my incentive to make it. But of course I see that trope and I think it's a good thing to recognize the way those female characters are used. I mean, I appreciate that people are writing characters that are interesting and unusual, rather than some bland female character as the girlfriend in a movie, but when the point of the character in this movie is to, like, help the guy have his arc, that's sort of the problem, and that's why it's good that they're talking about it, because it certainly is a troubling trope.
On the one hand, it's unfortunate to see Portman look back unfavourably on the role: for all of Garden State's flaws, Portman was excellent in it, and it helped to define her career. On the other, it's good that hindsight has illuminated some of the more troubling elements of the film, and haters of the film will likely experience some schadenfreude at Portman's insecurity.
And we can't help but wonder: a decade from now, which hot young comedians are going to poke fun at Broad City and make Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson feel insecure?