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Zach Braff's Garden State Is Actually A Good Movie & Still Worth Watching Today

Every so often, a movie comes along that is almost universally praised upon its release but sees its reputation change over time. Think "Crash," the movie that seems to say, "Everyone's a racist, and so what?" or "The Notebook," the ultimate love story of a weird stalker and the woman who finally gives in to his demands. Then, of course, there's "Garden State."

The directorial and writing debut from Zach Braff of "Scrubs" fame, the indie-dramedy was and still is beloved by both critics and fans alike. While this might come as a surprise, especially when you consider the absolute trouncing that the movie has received from critics over the last decade, "Garden State" actually has an impressive rating of 86% from the professionals and 88% from your average movie watcher on Rotten Tomatoes.

All the same, many writers have taken to returning to the quirky comedy-drama to give it a swift kicking while it lies peacefully in its nearly two-decade-old slumber. Vice, for one, tore "Garden State" to shreds in its 10-year anniversary piece, while Bustle went one step further, offering a list of reasons to never watch the film again.

With Braff's latest movie "A Good Person," starring Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, freshly released, the vultures have returned to feast on the bones of "Garden State," and we're here to tell you why they should close their beaks and fly away for good. 

Garden State has an unforgettable cast of characters

While it's only natural for movie lovers to return to their early favorites and re-evaluate them, "Garden State" seems to get an extra round of beatings with each passing year. In fact, Zach Braff opened up about exactly that in a recent interview, and what makes matters worse is that the film does not deserve this treatment whatsoever.

For one thing, "Garden State" has an amazing cast, and they bring some incredibly witty humor to the film. Natalie Portman's Sam may get wrapped up in the controversy surrounding the manic pixie dream girl trope, but Portman plays her with such wacky zeal and tender awkwardness that it's impossible not to like her. Peter Sarsgaard and Ian Holm also shine in the supporting cast, which helps to balance Braff's Andrew who can be a bit one-note at times. Meanwhile, Jim Parsons is there, being a comically massive geek long before he made a career out of it; Method Man drops in for a cameo; and Jean Smart shows up to play a hilariously wistful mom.

Even characters who appear in only a single scene leave a lasting impression. Take retail worker and Andrew's former classmate, Karl (Geoffrey Arend), who offers this non-sequitur when he runs into Andrew all those years later: "I thought you killed yourself!" It's totally absurd moments like this that draw a razor-sharp line through the film's deft balance of dark comedy and tender drama.

The film is a moving look at mental illness and trauma

With all of this said, though, there are some genuine reasons why "Garden State" may be off-putting to some viewers now. For instance, Andrew is only able to come out of his depressed stupor after quitting his medication. However, the message of the film is not that taking medication for your mental illness is a bad thing, only that it won't help you very much if you're not doing anything to address your feelings or your trauma.

In fact, the way that "Garden State" approaches opening up to friends about your struggles and facing down the demons that have haunted you since childhood is actually a very positive approach to mental health, especially for the time. Zach Braff himself has spoken openly about his OCD, which inspired parts of Andrew's character, and how lost he felt at the time he was writing the film.

You can feel this openness and honesty throughout "Garden State" as well. Many of the characters in the film are oddballs and outcasts who don't feel like they fit in anywhere. Meanwhile, even carelessly rich and seemingly content characters like Jesse (Armando Riesco) appear to be living a somewhat vapid and empty existence. Taking these matters into consideration, the ultimate message of the film really feels like something along the lines of "life's hard, but keep going."

The soundtrack is absolutely littered with classics

Luckily, even the "Garden State" haters have to concede that the film has an absolutely incredible soundtrack. Featuring songs from Coldplay, Frou Frou, Simon & Garfunkel, The Shins, and Nick Drake, both the movie's emotional moments and its scenes of levity are given an extra punch by these fantastically fitting song selections.

Of particular note is the song "New Slang," which Sam forces Andrew to listen to when they first meet at the doctor's office. The film plays on its strengths here by having the camera simply focus on Sam's face as she eagerly awaits Andrew's reaction. It's a suitably awkward scene and one that's instantly relatable for anyone who has had to try and react in real time to someone else's beloved song. Furthermore, these needle drops always seem to come at the exact right time and are rarely on-the-nose choices. They're not just catchy, but generally help to play off the emotional nuance of the scene or help to foster an understanding between the audience and the characters.

While there always seems to be a roaming crew online looking for well-liked movies to pick apart, there are plenty of better choices for their targets than "Garden State." Zach Braff's first film is still his best and remains a near-perfect time capsule of the mid-'00s, a time when everything was changing at an alarmingly fast rate and we could all use a chance to slow down and recalibrate — much like the characters of the film.