Garden State: Quite Possibly the Perfect Movie Soundtrack
Usually discussions about great film music revolve around scores, like the magnificent and haunting works of Angelo Badalamenti, John Williams and Bernard Herrmann that make every movie they ever worked on so much better.
But once in a blue moon, a movie comes along where a group of songs -- lets call it a soundtrack -- are chosen so masterfully they are as essential to the films mood as the writing, acting and directing. This has been done a handful of times in the past. Recent examples include Princes legendary Purple Rain soundtrack and the Trent Reznor-produced Natural Born Killers soundtrack, which brilliantly shuffled between genres to capture the schizophrenic nature of the psychedelic film.
To the short list of soundtrack masterpieces you can add Garden State, composed of songs from the feature film debut from writer-director Zach Braff -- who is also the films lead actor and personally chose the songs that would appear in the film. Ive been told hes some sort of sitcom star, but anyone whos seen his film can testify that he is far more than a comedian. Braffs film is both funny and sad, serious and hilarious, moving and silly. And above all, it is pretty damn brilliant especially when you consider that Braff wasnt even 30 years old when he made it and had never directed a film before. Anyone whos ever had any sort of serious romantic connection to another human being will be moved by the honesty and beauty of this work of cinematic art.
But this isnt a review of the film. Those of you who have seen the film probably know that its amazing. For those of you who havent seen the film, go watch it now. Rent it, buy it, steal it do whatever you have to do. Then, go buy the soundtrack. Then, come back and read this article, which
will give away some pretty important details that are best discovered by watching the film. You have been warned.
For a long time now, film soundtracks have mostly been a collection of songs inspired by a film. Often, not one note of the songs even appeared in the film outside of the end credits, which is a pretty big stretch of the word soundtrack if you ask me. And even if the music does appear in the film, its usually just in the background during a party scene or serves merely as background noise in some other manner.
What Braff has in his film is far from background noise. Each of the 13 songs appears in the film some in their entirety, some only for a few notes. But all of them enhance the film and most do a great job of echoing the sentiments expressed by the characters in the scenes in which they
As the movie starts, Coldplays somberly upbeat Dont Panic plays. We live in a beautiful world, the chorus lets us know. This sentiment, learning to enjoy life despite problems we might face, is a major theme of the movie. But at this stage of the film, the only reason Large thinks things are beautiful is because of the antidepressants he is taking.
The next song on the soundtrack, The Shins Caring is Creepy, is a faster, catchy track we hear when Large has returned home for his mothers funeral and is taking his old WWII bike, complete with sidecar, out for a spin in his old hometown. The upbeat track reflects how Large, off his
antidepressants, is starting to try and enjoy life naturally.
Zero 7s In the Waiting Line is a hypnotic and mellow track featured in a scene where Large and his friends are tripping on Ecstasy and playing spin-the-bottle. The slow groove of the song contrasts perfectly with a fast-motion camera showing Large sitting and staring at the drugged-up
antics of his friends while he takes in the effects of a different kind of happy pill.
Next up is the second Shins song on the album, New Slang. This is the song Natalie Portmans character Sam tells Large to listen to. It will change your life, she tells him. I have a sneaking suspicion this track is only in the film so Braff can have Portman give a name drop to the Shins, who are one of his favorite bands. But Ill forgive the shameless plug because its a great song. And while the song itself doesnt change Larges life, meeting Sam sure does and she was listening to the Shins. So in a roundabout way, the song is as important as any other in the film.
Colin Hays devastatingly sad I Just Dont Think Ill Ever Get Over You is heard briefly after Large and Sam bury the hamster in her jam-packed pet cemetery. If I lived till I was 102/ I just don't think I'll ever get over you, are the only lyrics we hear. But the effect is made. The pair have just finished talking about Larges mom dying, and its just starting to hit home that she is really dead.
Even Sam, who never knew his mom, starts to tear up during the discussion. The emotion in Hays voice echoes these melancholy sentiments perfectly.
Next up is Blue Eyes, a sincere, effective love song by Cary Brothers -- an unknown who is one of Braffs close friends. The song in played in the background during a scene at a bar where Sam and Large are continuing to
evolve their relationship. By the time the next song, Remy Zeros Fair, comes on, the couple has just gotten the nerve up to admit to the feelings they have for each other. The song sounds heartbreaking at times, yet has many positive and hopeful lyrics at the same time. Its an accurate reflection of how they are feeling On one hand they feel great because they found each other, but theyre sad because he plans to leave for L.A. in a couple of days.
Things lighten up for a bit after this. A quiet but upbeat tune by Nick Drake, One of These Things First, plays as Sam, Large and a friend embark on a journey. Lebanese Blonde by Thievery Corporation, a catchy dance track, is the perfect kind of music to hear as the trio enters a hotel
during a well-executed slow-motion shot during one part of their journey.
Simon & Garfunkels The Only Living Boy in New York plays during the famous screaming into the abyss scene. As our trio yells into the great unknown, the songs message of uncertainty and concern about the future
echoes the images on the screen. Theyre going to face the future head-on, without fear. Large has come a long way since the film started, and this is a breakthrough moment for him.
Iron and Wines incredibly moving ballad Such Great Heights, a somber cover of a more fast-paced track by The Postal Service, plays after the couple has shared a tender moment and we see them lying in bed next to each other. The song expresses sadness of distance and being away from one you love, but is also positive in thinking of the future when the two will be together. They will see us waving from such great heights, goes the chorus. The song, and the scene, show that despite the fact that our couple might be separated soon the future is still bright. The trailer for the film featured the original Postal Service version of this song, which is also excellent, but thankfully the slower version was used in the film as it fits the mood of the scene much better.
Frou Frous Let Go plays as the movie ends, and Large changes his mind about leaving. The first hypnotic notes chime in as the pair kiss each other in the middle of the airport. Obviously, Sam and Large have let go of their
inhibitions and decided not to pass up this chance for what could be the perfect relationship. The energetic dance song is catchy beyond belief and captures the spirit of the scene.
The last song on the soundtrack, Bonnie Somervilles Winding Road, was originally slated for a scene in the middle of the film that ended up being cut. Instead, Braff tacked it on at the end of the credits. It still works though, as the lyrics reflect the uncertainty and positivity that Sam and Large feel about the future now: 'Cause it's a winding road, I've been walking for a long time/And I still don't know where it goes/And it's a long way home, I've been searching for a long time/Still have hope we're gonna find our way home This is a positive song that will put a smile on your
face, and you should be smiling after you see this film.
Sam and Large are committed now and dont know whats next, but thats OK. In a way, thats the whole point of the movie. As Sam says, when she thinks Large is going to leave, I know it hurts. But it's life, and it's real. And sometimes it fucking hurts, but it's life, and it's pretty much all we got. She has taught Large that life is not something to fear, its something to enjoy. And that pain isnt the end of the world its something you just have to deal with and go on.
The Garden State soundtrack is a rare instance of perfect harmony between film and music. The more you listen to the CD the more you will like it. And as a result, every time you watch the film you will appreciate it even more. Braff has shown he has a sizable amount of talent as a director, writer and especially as a soundtrack selector. His future could be very bright.
But even if his next movie is nothing special, Im willing to bet the songs he includes will be pretty damn good. And even if he never does anything else memorable in his career, the amazing combo of the Garden State movie
and soundtrack is more of an accomplishment than most filmmakers could ever hope for.